DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP PROPOSES REDISTRICTING FIX

 

DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP PROPOSES REDISTRICTING FIX           

Richmond, Va. -- The Democratic Leadership in the Virginia General Assembly today announced that it has drafted a bill that will fix the unconstitutional gerrymandering of Congressional Districts that was struck down by the federal courts in 2014 in Page v. Virginia State Board of Elections, et. al.   They also renewed calls for long-term redistricting reform, with an eye towards proposals in 2016 having a commission draw lines that are fair to voters and both political parties.

The bill will be patroned in the Senate by Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), who offered a bill in 2011 that did not have the racial gerrymandering that the Court declared to be unconstitutional last year. Senator Locke’s bill passed the Virginia State Senate in 2011, but was rejected by the Republican-controlled House.  “I am proud to introduce this measure”, said Senator Locke. “It fixes problems with the 3rdDistrict, creates districts that reflect Virginia voting patterns, and gives African-Americans and other minorities a greater voice throughout Virginia.”

“We are offering this fix and look forward to Virginians having the opportunity to comment on it and offer suggestions before the Assembly acts on the plans”, said Senator Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), Democratic Leader in the Senate. “It is very important to us to have a transparent process that results in a plan that can pass constitutional muster.”  

"This is why we need redistricting reform with a nonpartisan, transparent process. In the meantime, this map is a temporary fix that is constitutional. Moreover, it reflects our priorities that allow voters to make real choices and to have an opportunity to see and comment on the districts," Senator A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), Democratic Caucus Chair said.

Delegate Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), House Democratic Caucus Chair and proponent of the plan stated, “Our citizens believe strongly that districts should not be contiguous only by going down a river before coming back on land or be a long thin strip going from North Carolina to Loudoun County. We believe our plan makes more sense to Virginians."

Senator George L. Barker (D-Fairfax), one of the architects of the plan, stated, “With this plan, we fix the constitutional infirmities involved in how the 3rd Congressional District was drawn with a plan that is politically balanced and, partly as a result of that, reflects our diversity and gives racial and ethnic minorities significant voice in multiple districts.”

On October 7, 2014, the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the 2012 General Assembly redistricting for the House of Representative seats was unconstitutional because the 3rd Congressional District was improper racial gerrymandering.  The U. S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal by House Republicans in March, 2015.  On June 5, 2015, the Federal District Court reaffirmed its decision and directed the General Assembly to draw new lines to remedy the unconstitutional map.   The court order was clear; the General Assembly was directed to do this by September 1, 2015.   On July 16, 2015, the Governor called for a special session to commence on August 17, 2015 in order to fix the problem.  On July 28, 2015, he sent a letter to the House and Senate Democratic and Republican Leadership requesting that they return to Richmond prior to the session in hopes of developing a bipartisan map that could be passed.   The Republican Leadership immediately rebuffed the Governor’s request for a bipartisan solution.   “We are under a court order to redraw lines by September 1, 2015, and since the Republicans rebuffed the Governor’s call to come together and draft a bipartisan plan in advance of the upcoming special session, we felt we had to act independently”, said Delegate David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville), Democratic Leader of the House of Delegates.   Consequently, the Democratic Leadership is offering its map.

For a PDF version of the map, please click here.

This plan addresses the constitutional infirmities of the current districts in the following ways:

1.     Race is no longer the predominant consideration in drawing Congressional districts; and

2.     The 3rd Congressional District is no longer “packed” in a way that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Democratic Leadership plan has the following features, and borrowed from Senator Locke’s 2011 bill as well as the winner of Governor McDonnell’s Redistricting Commission’s competition in 2011:

1.     The map produces districts that are reflective of the political differences in Virginia, with five districts that are more Republican than the Commonwealth as a whole, five districts that are more Democratic than the Commonwealth as a whole, and one district that reflects statewide voting patterns;

2.     The 3rd Congressional District eliminates the contiguity issues and nearly all of the split jurisdictions and precincts it has in the current alignment;

3.     The 5th Congressional District no longer extends from North Carolina to the Loudoun County line but goes only as far north as the Charlottesville area and the Albemarle-Greene County line;

4.     The 10th Congressional District no longer extends well beyond the Northern Virginia planning district to the Frederick-West Virginia line, and three districts are located wholly within the Northern Virginia planning district;

5.     The plan eliminates packing of African-Americans in the 3rd Congressional District and substantially increases the voice of minorities throughout Virginia, with both the 3rdand 4th districts having sufficient percentages of African-Americans to elect the candidates of their choice, as specified by law;

6.     African-Americans also gain substantially greater percentages and voice in the 5thand 8th Congressional Districts, Hispanics have a significant voice in the 8th and 11th districts, and Asian-Americans have a substantial voice in the 11th and 10th districts;

7.     The plan is based on a zero variance in population, that is, every district is drawn with an equal population, reflecting the principle of one person, one vote;

8.     The plan does not place any incumbent in a district with another sitting incumbent; and

9.     The plan meets the standards of Article II, paragraph 6 of the Virginia Constitution and its requirement that “every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory…”.

The plan complies with Section V of the Voting Rights Act not only by preserving the ability of African-Americans in the 3rd District to maintain their ability to elect their candidate of choice but also by providing that opportunity to African-Americans in the 4th Congressional District, which is possible because African-Americans are not unconstitutionally packed in the 3rd District.

Critical to developing a sound map is having racial voting bloc analyses performed to ensure that African-Americans have the ability to elect their candidate of choice where appropriate. Racial voting bloc analyses have been performed and we are confident that both the 3rd and 4th Congressional districts proposed enable African-Americans to elect the candidate of their choice but that there is not packing or the racial gerrymandering that led to the current alignment being declared unconstitutional. The Court, in its decision declaring the current districts unconstitutional, noted repeatedly that no racial voting bloc analysis or similar evaluation had been done prior to passage of the 2012 redistricting.

Democrats will continue to propose various redistricting solutions and bills in the January session because citizens have the right to choose their leaders rather than the other way around. With a fair and balanced redistricting process, Virginia should not be taken to Court to defend unconstitutional plans.

 

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Authorized and Paid for by The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus

Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus
1710 E. Franklin St
Richmond VA 23223 United States

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