The pair were part of a small cadre of legislators who worked quietly to draw the maps with input primarily from the majority party in each house. Fewer than 10 of the state’s 140 legislators were privy to the lines before they were made public last week, according to lawmakers and aides.
The General Assembly, which returns to the Capitol on Monday for a special session on redistricting, expects to approve the proposed maps with few alterations and within days.
The Republican-led House of Delegates and the Democratic-controlled Senate have already agreed to vote for their own plans, and then each other’s, as part of a deal between the chamber’s leaders.
The result? Lines that protect incumbents and punish challengers, observers say.
“It’s horrific,’’ said C. Douglas Smith, director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and chairman of the Virginia Redistricting Coalition, which advocates changing the process. “Redistricting has always happened with only a few people knowing. It shouldn’t surprise us, but should disappoint us.”
The maps introduced last week are supposed to reflect population shifts over the past 10 years, particularly in Northern Virginia's booming outer suburbs, while keeping communities of interest together.
Instead, the Senate has proposed stretching one district from North Carolina to Maryland, accessible only by boat. It also recommends splitting Virginia Beach four ways.
The House, meanwhile, has proposed combining the bustling Northern Virginia suburbs of Loudoun County, including Leesburg, with rural areas of the Shenandoah Valley, into one district. It also recommends splitting Martinsville three ways.
This year, for the first time, about 150 students from 13 Virginia colleges drew legislative maps in a contest that aimed to show lawmakers examples of compact districts that respect community boundaries. Six groups won cash prizes in the contest.
Legislators who drew the House and Senate maps say they glanced at the students’ efforts but that they arrived too late to get a serious look. Still, advocates continue to lobby legislators to consider them. “Never in the history of Virginia have we had so many qualified options,’’ Smith said.
Barker, a senator from Prince William since 2008, has spent 30 years determining where hospitals and nursing homes should be built in Northern Virginia. He has studied traffic patterns, communities of interest and census data.
Last year, Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw and Sen. Janet D. Howell, both Democrats from Fairfax County, asked Barker to take a crack at drawing the chamber’s maps.