RICHMOND — A federal court on Friday night released proposals for drawing new House of Delegates districts in Virginia to repair 11 that were found to be racially gerrymandered.
The 131-page report, prepared by California professor Bernard Grofman, contains several proposals for drawing new districts that the court will review ahead of a hearing scheduled for Jan. 10.
Because redrawing the 11 districts will affect areas adjacent to them, Grofman told the court that up to 26 districts would need to be redrawn. He broke the affected areas of the state into four zones and submitted multiple proposals for each area, resulting in 36 possible combinations of maps.
The districts are concentrated around Hampton Roads and Richmond.
Control of the state legislature hangs in the balance with the redistricting. Democrats made huge gains last year and nearly wiped out years of a GOP majority, leaving Republicans with just a 51-49 edge in the 100-seat House.
It is unclear whether either party would benefit from the proposals. The 26 affected districts are now held by a mix of Democrats and Republicans, including some that were very closely contested in 2017. That includes the seat held by Del. David E. Yancey (R-Newport News), who won last year in a random drawing after his election ended in a tie with his Democratic opponent.
Grofman, a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine, was appointed as “special master” to oversee the redistricting process by a panel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. That court had ruled in June that the 11 districts were drawn in a way that concentrated black voters and deprived them of representation.
The court gave the Virginia General Assembly until Oct. 30 to produce a new map, but when legislators failed to agree on one that Gov. Ralph Northam (D) would support, the court appointed Grofman to oversee the process.
Residents of 12 districts brought a lawsuit in 2014, represented by Democratic lawyer Marc Elias. One of the districts was found not to have been gerrymandered, leaving the 11 now at issue.
Also on Friday, the court denied a motion from House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) to delay the primary elections scheduled for next June and to delay the special master’s maps until the U.S. Supreme Court has heard an appeal of the case.
The high court agreed last month to take up the matter but said it was mainly interested in the question of whether the Republican leadership in the House had standing to bring the case.
Cox said Friday evening that he was disappointed with both that ruling and the remedial maps proposed by Grofman.
“The further development of a remedial map will cause great confusion for candidates, election officials, and voters, as is evidenced by sheer number of combinations presented by the Special Master,” Cox said via email. “We will review the report of the Special Master as we determine our next steps and continue our appeal with the pending case before the United States Supreme Court. Ultimately we believe the current map, which was adopted by a bipartisan majority, will be upheld.”
Democrats, on the other hand, welcomed the report.
“We are gratified that the district court has rejected House Republicans’ latest attempt to delay and that the redistricting process continues to move forward,” House Democratic Caucus executive director Trevor Southerland said via email.
He also called on House Republicans to join in support of a constitutional amendment to create independent, nonpartisan redistricting.
Grofman said in his report that the suggested maps do not use race as a predominant criterion and that they attempt to stick to county and other political boundaries as much as possible.
He said the districts were also drawn to be “blind” to partisan outcomes and said that as far as he could tell no district would lump together two incumbent delegates.