By Matt de Simone
The Virginia Supreme Court recently approved new maps establishing the congressional and state legislative districts under Virginia’s unique redistricting process.
Two court-appointed “special masters,” political scientists Sean Trende and Bernard Grofman, were tasked to “redraw” the maps in November. Last Tuesday saw the Virginia Supreme Court approve the new maps.
According to the court, Trende and Grofman fully complied with state and federal law while redrawing the maps. The court stated the final maps are approved and adopted effective immediately.
The special masters released a 63-page memo on Tuesday that walks readers through their redistricting process. After reading through “thousands” of public comments about the maps, they noted that the most common criticism was a lack of attention paid to incumbency.
The existing congressional map splits 14 counties 16 times, according to the memo. The current Senate of Virginia map splits 46 counties 78 times. The existing House of Delegates map splits 60 counties 138 times. By comparison, the submitted congressional map splits 10 counties 11 times. The submitted Senate of Virginia map splits 25 counties 34 times. The submitted House of Delegates map splits 51 counties 98 times.
“At a high level, (Botetourt) will no longer have split precincts in Cloverdale and Troutville,” Botetourt County Director of Elections and General Registrar Traci Clark mentioned in a recent email. “The entire county will be in single Congressional, House of Delegates, and State Senate districts. That’s a good thing. The county may have to adjust the magisterial districts due to census numbers, requiring changes to precinct boundaries.”
Clark went on to mention that the registrar’s office has not begun the adjustment process due to the newness of the redistricting of the state.
In the new 37th House District, Delegates Terry Austin (16th) and Chris Head (17th) are now in the same district. The new State Senate’s 3rd District finds itself without an incumbent. Senator Steve Newman of the then 23rd District now falls under the new 4th District.
“I’m satisfied with the district we have,” Del. Austin stated when he was recently asked about the new redistricting. “At least we have Botetourt in one district. One of the maps previously drawn by the redistricting commission had Botetourt with three delegates in the House of Delegates. I didn’t want to see our county separated like that. I think (the new map) will give fair representation to accommodate all districts.”
The 6th Congressional District also sees changes for Republican Congressmen Morgan Griffith (9th) and Ben Cline (6th). Griffith, a Salem resident, recently announced plans to re-run for the 9th District. Due to Congressional candidates not having to live in their service district, the changes won’t affect Griffith running for re-election in the 9th District.
The memo noted small changes to the 6th District, noting that some public comments “expressed dismay” that the special masters didn’t keep Roanoke County intact. If the political scientists were to “draw in” the Cave Spring area into the 6th, “significant alterations” would have been required in other parts of the surrounding areas.
However, the redistricting will affect the State Senate seats. Sen. Creigh Deeds announced last Wednesday that he would move to the Charlottesville area (the new 11th District) after losing his seat due to the map changes.
“We (Trende and Grofman) did learn, however, that if Craig County were placed into the 9th – increasing the number of Virginia’s Appalachian counties placed into the 9th – that we could add a few additional precincts in Roanoke County to the 6th,” the memo states. “We have done so. We also made some slight changes to ensure population equality.”
This past year saw elections for the House of Delegates. In 2023, all 40 seats in the State Senate are up for re-election since Virginia state races are in odd years instead of even years for federal races.
However, there is currently an ongoing court case in the federal appellate court to decide if delegates will have to run again in 2022 or if they receive the option to run in 2023.
To read the memo submitted by Trende and Grofman, visit https://www.vacourts.gov/courts/scv/districting/2021_virginia_redistricting_memo.pdf.