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Delivery of census data means Va. redistricting battle is near

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 1, 2011

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

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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, the Democrat'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 persuade 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, 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 - 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 counties 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 have been lost and young residents have moved to find employment.

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