RICHMOND — Federal judges have selected a Virginia House of Delegates redistricting map that appears to heavily favor Democrats, redrawing the lines of 26 districts and moving several powerful Republicans into unfavorable configurations.
Six Republicans would wind up in districts where a majority of voters chose Democratic President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, according to an analysis of the maps by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. No current Democrats would see their voter majority change to Republican, based on those election results.
Virginia does not register voters by party.
If the court’s map selection stands, it would create a favorable environment for Democrats seeking to take control of the House of Delegates in elections this fall, according to the analysis. All 100 seats in the House are on the ballot, and Republicans hold a 51-to-48 majority.
One seat is open because former delegate Jennifer B. Boysko (D-Fairfax County) recently won election to the state Senate.
Several efforts to amend the state’s constitution to create independent or bipartisan redistricting commissions for future redistricting efforts are percolating in this year’s General Assembly. Those efforts would not impact the November elections.
A panel of judges from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled last June that 11 districts had been racially gerrymandered to concentrate black voters and ordered a new map.
Most of the affected districts are in the Hampton Roads and Richmond areas; redrawing those lines alters several surrounding districts.
Because the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam couldn’t agree last fall on how to redraw the lines, the judges selected a California professor as “special master” to devise a plan. Late Tuesday, the judges said they had chosen a combination of maps from the special master’s plan.
The court ordered the special master to complete a final plan by Tuesday and said either side could submit objections by Feb. 1. The judges will implement the new map soon after.
The maps chosen by the judges would more evenly distribute black voters and put more Democratic-leaning voters into districts held by Republicans.
House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) would see his district tilt Democratic, shifting 32 percentage points to the left, according to the VPAP analysis of the 2012 results.
Del. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, would also wind up in a majority-Democratic district, shifting more than 27 points to the left, according to VPAP.
A handful of Democrats who won in 2017 in red or closely divided districts would see their bases get more blue. While many Democratic districts would pick up voters who tend to cast ballots for Republicans, none would become majority Republican, VPAP predicted.
“The Eastern District Court selected a series of legally indefensible redistricting modules that attempts to give Democrats an advantage at every turn,” Cox said Tuesday night via email. “The modules selected by the Court target senior Republicans, myself included, without a substantive basis in the law.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the case, though it refused to delay the redistricting effort as it weighs the appeal. Part of what the high court is considering is whether the House Republicans have standing to bring the case.
“We are confident that the Supreme Court will not allow the remedial map the court appears to be on its way to adopting to stand,” Cox said, noting that Northam had voted for the 2011 redistricting plan when he was in the state Senate and that it was approved by the Obama-era Justice Department. “We will continue to fight for the 2011 redistricting plan.”
Marc E. Elias, a Democratic election lawyer representing those who challenged the design of the districts, tweeted late Tuesday that the court “has ordered the special master to adopt the alternative-map configuration we advocated. We are one important step closer to the end of the GOP’s racial gerrymander.”
Northam has said he supports establishing a nonpartisan effort to draw future political boundaries, and several proposals to create a new process are alive in the General Assembly.
A Senate committee on Tuesday defeated a measure seeking to amend the state constitution to set up an independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. But the same committee approved a resolution calling for an amendment to establish a bipartisan panel made up of citizens and legislators.
On the House side, a host of related bills are parked in a subcommittee, awaiting action. Several have bipartisan support, but it’s unclear if any will advance.
“The governor is a longtime advocate of nonpartisan redistricting reform and looks forward to seeing what progress the General Assembly makes on that front this session,” Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said.
Virginia is set to redraw all its legislative boundaries in 2021.