Delivery of census data means Va. redistricting battle is near

 Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. (AP)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 31, 2011; 8:24 PM

RICHMOND - Every time Sen. Mark Herring casts a vote on the floor of the Virginia Senate, he has an unsettling thought: His vote should really count at least one and a half times.

Since his district in eastern Loudoun County was drawn a decade ago, so many newcomers have moved to its growing subdivisions that it has 100,000 more people than it would if the state's population was divided evenly among the 40 Senate districts.

Put another way, Herring's constituents in Loudoun now get only two-thirds of the say over what goes on in the Senate as residents in Lynchburg or Harrisonburg or Chesapeake, where growth has been slower.

But that's about to change.

On Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau will deliver to Virginia the neighborhood population data from the 2010 census that is needed for the state to start its once-a-decade process of redrawing the lines of state legislative and congressional districts.

The General Assembly will use the data during a special redistricting legislative session in April, a highly political tussle in which partisanship and incumbency are bound to be important factors.

But one mathematical certainty is that the new maps will reflect a power shift in Virginia from south to north - and especially to Washington's outer suburbs, the epicenter of the state's economic vibrancy in the past decade.

In a state that sometimes feels like two culturally distinct worlds, Northern Virginians hope redistricting will give them the voting power to convince the rest of Virginia to take their concerns more seriously.

"We're going to have more representatives in the legislature who are in tune with issues that are important to suburban voters, more nuts-and-bolts governance issues," said Herring, a Democrat who has lived in Loudoun since the 1970s.

A decade of rocket-fast growth seeping outward from Washington has meant more than just new people in Northern Virginia. It's meant that more of the state now considers itself part of Northern Virginia.

Culpeper, Stafford, Spotsylvania - all these counties have seen a rapid influx of residents who feel more kinship to those who live to their north in Fairfax and Prince William than to the rest of the state.

Meanwhile, the state's old manufacturing towns and agricultural communities in Southside and Southwest Virginia have been shrinking as jobs are lost and young residents move to find employment.

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