Is 50-50 fair? Virginia Democrats say new map should reflect their success


FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Some Democrats on a bipartisan redistricting commission in Virginia said Monday that new legislative districts will be fair only if they reflect the partisan success Democrats have had in the state for the past decade.

The remarks came after Democratic and Republican map drawers for the first time submitted a joint map with proposed new boundaries for the 40-member state Senate, where Democrats currently hold a narrow 21-19 majority.

The newly proposed map provides an even 20-20 split in terms of which party holds an advantage, using the vote in the 2016 presidential election as a guide.

While an even split sounds fair on the surface, Democrats on the commission say that would actually dilute Democratic influence, given that Democrats have won every statewide election since 2009.

Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, said Democrats should hold an advantage in at least 22 districts, maybe more, to fairly respect the state’s Democratic tilt.

Any map that doesn’t respect the state’s Democratic strength could fail to meet the requirements of a new state law that says the lines “must not unduly favor or disfavor any political party,” said Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, a member of the commission

“What does fairness look like?” Simon asked. “We’re getting to the point where we can no longer agree to disagree.”

But a Republican lawyer advising the committee, H. Christopher Bartolomucci, said it would be a mistake to try to target a quota of Democratic seats. He said the commission could meet the legal requirements to not unduly favor one party or the other by applying politically neutral principles in drawing the maps, and not trying to influence the partisan tilt one way or another.

One reason some Democrats are unhappy with the proposed map may be the result of how it was created. Initially, Democratic and Republican map drawers had been creating their own maps, and unsurprisingly the Democratic map favored Democrats and vice versa. In developing the joint map over the weekend, the map drawers said that they largely utilized the Democratic map as the basis for northern Virginia and the Republican map for Hampton Roads.

In heavily Democratic northern Virginia, it makes little difference how the maps are drawn in terms of partisan advantage, because all the districts lean Democratic. Hampton Roads, on the other hand, is a politically competitive region with strong pockets of Democratic and Republican strength, so how the maps are drawn there goes a long way toward determining a partisan edge.

Another issue the commission is struggling with: What percentage of African American votes is necessary to give Black voters the ability to elect the candidate of their choice as required under law? The map has three districts with a majority of African American voters, and those districts reflect a huge Democratic advantage. Some commissioners have suggested that districts could be drawn with, say, a 45% Black population. That would still give Black voters political power in that district and also strengthen their clout in neighboring districts.

The commission, equally divided between eight Democratic and Republican appointees, is supposed to submit maps for the Senate and House of Delegates to the General Assembly by Oct. 10 for an up-or-down vote. The commission requires a 12-person supermajority to pass any map.



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