Virginia, as other states, is engaged in a decennial redistricting of its political maps. It's an exercise intended tocorrect for shifts in population, which in the commonwealth's case have been considerable. Northern Virginia's population has boomed, especially in the outer suburban localities of Prince William and Loudoun counties, while other, more rural parts of the state have stagnated or lost population.
Redistricting in Virginia, as elsewhere, has traditionally been a highly partisan undertaking, meaning the party or parties in power drew maps to their liking and to promote their candidates. Gov. Robert McDonnell seemed to hold out the promise of a fairer, more voter-centric process when, during his electoral campaign, he pledged to create a bipartisan redistricting commission. Although the commission he created last year has made its recommendations, it has no power to implement them.It remains to be seen how much weight the governor will accord them. State lawmakers have more or less ignored the commission's proposals for Virginia House and Senate districts.
The proposed U.S. congressional redistricting maps pictured here are both based on new census data and intended to take effect in the 2012 elections. Beyond that, they are a study in contrasts.
The top one -- endorsed by the state redistricting commission and based on the work of students at William and Mary Law School -- represents a scheme that tries to hew to existing jurisdictional boundaries to create relatively compact districts that would help voters and citizens alike. It ignores partisan considerations, such as the dwellings of current members of Congress,and its boundaries are meant to help voters choose and press their causes with their representatives to Congress.
The bottom one -- passed by the Virginia House of Delegates after consultations with congressional incumbents -- is designed wholly for the benefit of Virginia's three Democratic and eight Republican sitting members of Congress. Its tortuous shapes and unsightly squiggles amount to a highly partisan job-protection program for current office holders, who would in effectselect their voters, excluding potentially hostile ones while keeping the friendlies.
Take District 11, a highly competitive purple battleground now represented by Rep. Gerry Connolly, a second-term Democrat. In the William and Mary map, District 11, reconfigured to fit within Fairfax County, remains a swing district, narrowly split between Democratic and Republican voters. In it, Connolly, who eked out a narrow victory last fall, would continue to sweatfrom election to election. By contrast, Connolly would breathe easy with the House-approved map, which contorts his districtboundaries to pack in disparate Democratic-leaning neighborhoods in Herndon, Woodbridge, Centreville, Annandale and FallsChurch while excluding GOP-dominated Lorton.
Virginia's legislature is expected to adopt a congressional map in the coming weeks and send it to McDonnell for his consideration.