RICHMOND — Virginia Republicans have proposed a political map to replace one deemed unconstitutional because of the way black voters were concentrated into a few districts.
With a court-ordered deadline of Oct. 30, Republican leaders of the House of Delegates on Tuesday backed a “politically neutral, race-blind remedial” redistricting map that they said would satisfy the court while causing minimal disruption to existing legislative district lines.
The move appears to signal that GOP leaders are willing to come to the table when a House committee meets on Sept. 27 to consider redistricting plans. It might also suggest they are wary of the map a federal court could impose if they miss the deadline and cannot persuade the Supreme Court to intervene.
Control of the House of Delegates hangs in the balance. Last fall’s elections wiped out a 2-to-1 Republican advantage in the 100-seat House, leaving the GOP with a 51-to-49 edge.
“While we maintain the constitutionality of the bipartisan plan adopted in 2011 and will continue to pursue our appeal to the Supreme Court, we are introducing a map today to demonstrate to the District Court and the public that you can, in fact, draw a politically neutral, race-blind remedial map,” said House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights).
The map would not significantly change the political makeup of the affected districts, something Cox touted as a sign that it was not drawn with partisan intent. But House Democrats challenged the notion that the current map’s flaws can be remedied without substantially altering that makeup.
“House Republicans have repeatedly stated that their map would maintain a similar partisan makeup to the racially gerrymandered 2011 map,” said Trevor Southerland, executive director of the House Democratic Caucus. “We cannot support partisan gerrymandering as a solution to racial gerrymandering.”
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) did not immediately take sides.
“Governor Northam and his team will analyze the majority’s effort,” spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said.
In June, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia found that 11 House districts were unconstitutionally drawn to concentrate black voters. The court set an Oct. 30 deadline to pass a new map.
Northam called the General Assembly to a special session on Aug. 30 to take up redistricting, and Democrats unveiled a plan that drew new lines for 29 districts to fix the 11 that didn’t pass muster. Most of the districts affected by that plan are around Richmond, Hampton and Norfolk.
But GOP leaders dismissed that proposal as a partisan power grab. House Republican leaders said Tuesday that they supported a map drawn by Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle). Bell’s plan would change lines for 30 districts, all of them adjacent to the 11 challenged districts.
Cox said the map would not force any incumbents into the same district, but Southerland said it would put two Newport News Democrats, Dels. Marcia Price and Mike Mullin, in that position.
The discrepancy appeared to stem from confusion over Price’s physical address in Newport News and a mailing address that she still uses at a relative’s home, also in Newport News, where she once lived.
“Delegate Price’s official address on file with the House Clerks Office is in the newly drawn district,” said Cox spokesman Parker Slaybaugh. “If Delegate Price is living at a different address, we are not aware of that.”
House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) had made similar assurances about the Democrats’ map before it became clear that in two cases, it would have forced two Republican legislators into the same district. In one of those cases, a delegate had moved.