Redistricting: incumbents, open seats and partisanship

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by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Most holders of the General Assembly rest more easily. Democratic and Republican map designers took the advice of the Virginia Redistricting Commission seriously and drew district boundaries placing most cardholders in districts with no other cardholders.

As indicated in a previous article, the members of the Commission interpreted the language of the Virginia code as obliging it to protect incumbents as much as possible. This language prohibits the production of plans which, on the whole, “unduly favor or disadvantage” a political party.

The extent to which the lines have been drawn to protect cardholders is not evident from the maps that have been made public. However, the map designers, while presenting their recommendations on Saturday to the Commission, were able to activate an overlay in their software that showed the precise location of the residence of each holder. Many of these small dots were very close to district boundaries or nestled in an area that suddenly bulged from district to adjacent district.

Asked about the shapes of certain neighborhoods, the card designers explained that they were necessary to protect the holders. No one opposed it. A commissioner, however, expressed some concern about an appendix, spanning a district near Lynchburg, which was used to separate outgoing delegates Kathy Byron and Matt Farriss into separate districts. It wasn’t that she objected to its use, only that it seemed too obvious. The map designer allayed his fears by replying that it would be easy to transfer an enclosure from a neighboring neighborhood to the annex, thereby “smoothing” the boundary of the Farriss neighborhood without having to disrupt the boundaries of another neighborhood. . With a few keystrokes on his computer, the change was made. (For anyone interested in seeing these details, video from the October 2 meeting can be found here, although it usually takes about a day for staff to load the recording from the live stream.)

Fortunately, the Virginia Public Access Project has partially filled this information gap by providing maps showing the districts in which two or more cardholders reside for each iteration of the Commission cards. The discussion below is based on this data.

The most recent Republican card has only 20 holders in a district containing two holders and the latest Democratic card has 24. See table below. In contrast, in two earlier cards, drawn before card designers were ordered to take cardholder addresses into account, the Democratic card designer had 37 cardholders in districts with two or more cardholders, while the Republican map designer had 34 cardholders in these districts. (Both plans even had districts with three incumbents.)

Card designers were also able to protect more Senate incumbents once they were given the green light. Previous Senate cards had paired 14 (Republican card) or 18 (Democratic card) holders. The “integrated” card presented at the start of last week (labeled C2) showed only 10 matched holders and, of these, three had indicated that they did not intend to stand for re-election in 2023, this being the case. which resulted in the twinning of only four incumbents. In Northern Virginia, the couples were Democrats Saslaw / Marsden and Boysko / Howell, but, according to media reports, Saslaw and Howell were planning to retire and not run for office. (This surprised me.) In the Lynchburg area, Republicans Sense. Newman and Peake were placed in the same district, but Newman told the Commission earlier this summer that he would not be running for re-election. This left Kiggans (R) and Lewis (D) paired in an Eastern Shore / Norfolk district and Edwards (D) paired with Sutterlein (R) in the Roanoke area. (No analysis is yet available for the two Senate plans unveiled on Saturday.)

One of the results of the redistribution will be a significant number of open neighborhoods. The latest plans for the Republican and Democratic House indicate 16 open seats. The latest Senate plan for which there is an analysis shows five open seats. It should be noted that these figures exaggerate the effect of the redistribution. The House analysis only includes candidates who will be on the ballot in November. Several incumbents are not on the ballot due to retirement, primary losses or their choice to run for a statewide position. Thus, after November, some of the districts now displayed as open on the redistribution plans will have incumbents.

In attempting to comply with the prohibition against “unduly favoring or disadvantaging” either party, Commission members and their map designers paid some attention to past voting patterns in the proposed constituencies. , but not as much as the protection of holders. VPAP analyzed the partisan tendencies of the proposed cards and the summary of this analysis is presented in the table below. By comparing the two plans of the house, it’s clear why both parties wanted their own card drawers.


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