The prime actors in the 1981 Virginia House of Delegates reapportionment drama were the 20 members of the Privileges and Elections Committee. The other 80 members of the House of Delegates submitted plans, pleaded, argued and brought witnesses to prove their points, but the decisions were made by that committee. Its normal duties are not very exciting unless a person is turned on by constitutional amendments and election procedures. Once every 10 years, however, after the U.S. census is completed, those 20 delegates proceed to redraw House district lines to reflect the shift in population throughout the Commonwealth.
It seemed like such a simple task to the newer members of the House who had not been through the reapportionment process before. But it was like a house of cards. Remove one card or change one line and the whole plan collapsed. The redistricting process dominated almost everyone's thoughts from the fall of 1980 to the recent court decision and will continue to be a bone of contention until at least Feb. 1, 1982, when the court will intercede and impose its own redistricting if the House plan at that time still violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 2 Section 6 of the Virginia constitution. Section 6 states the district should be "contigiuous and compact" and "constituted as to give as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district."
The members of the General Assembly had been told during the 1980 session that Virginia would be a pilot project and census figures would be available to us at an early date. Unfortunately, that timetable didn't hold. The delay in receiving final figures, coupled with the difficulty of the task and the pressure to report a plan in time to hold 1981 primary and general elections contributed to the faulty plan. However, 93 percent of the plan met all the criteria for redistricting. Only six districts exceeded the limits set by Howell v. Mahan, and three of those districts had compelling reasons for the deviation. The "punishment" of having to hold House elections three years in a row "exceeds the crime" of a minimally unconstitutional plan.
My involvement in the process grew out of a determination that Northern Virginia needed and deserved more representation. I had two goals in mind. The one was to see that Fairfax County was not shortchanged, as it had been after the 1970 census. The other was to try to get single-member districts. I firmly believe that citizens are better served by one delegate in a small district than by a committee of three or five in a larger district.
Fairfax has been represented by 10 delegates in two multi-member districts. Preliminary figures showed a population sufficient to guarantee 11, possibly 12, seats. Del. Dorothy McDiarmid, Vivian Watts and I met all fall and into the spring with people from Fairfax, from Northern Virginia and from other parts of the state seeking to create the best plan possible that was reasonable and fair. We considered at least 12 different plans for Fairfax and as many more for the state. Our final Fairfax plan survived, but none of the state-wide plans got through the committee.
The single-member district goal was not achieved. A straw poll of the committee members could muster only eight of the 20 committee votes. Giving single-member districts to Fairfax County would probably have opened the door to court suits forcing single-member districts for the entire state. This the committee was unwilling to accept. Regardless, McDiarmid and I presented both a single-member and a multi-member plan for Fairfax. Both followed guidelines. The multi- member plan was accepted. Our single-member plan was, we believe, far superior to that later presented to the U.S. District Court by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Those of us who voted for the final redistricting bill realized there were substantial deviations. However, the legal experts advised us that the deviations could be explained and defended. Given that advice and the fact that Northern Virginia would have its proper representation at a time when every vote will be critical, I voted yes.