Drawing the Party Line: A Summary

It’s been interesting to research an evolving topic. The situation has evolved past the original scope of my proposal, in which I intended to cover only the most recent redistricting event, only for more redistricting conflicts to appear. Just as I thought I had figured out the 2016 redistricting, Bethune Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, another state district challenge on the grounds of race-based voter districts, happened months after I proposed my topic. While it’s too early to see what will happen, it’s like I’ve been given another puzzle piece for a picture of the future.

Speaking of the future, let’s wrap up by discussing how districts will be drawn going forwards and who’s doing the drawing.

Approaches:

Legislative: In Virginia, districts are redrawn by the Legislature (Virginia House of Delegates and Virginia Senate) after the census is taken every 10 years. Even in a gerrymander-less scenario, districts are always in a state of flux. However, districts are often drawn with the interests of the majority party in mind. Virginia has has a Republican majority with the same majority leaders in both houses since 2010. From this, you might assume Virginia is a Republican state, but Virginia’s electoral votes went to Democratic candidates for the past three presidential elections and currently has two Democratic senators, which indicates that the majority of voters in Virginia vote for Democratic officials. This suggests that though Virginia has a significant Democrat-voting population, districts set by the state legislature have given Republicans an advantage that is not representative of how Virginia votes.

There are no laws in place that prevent the legislature from drawing districts to the advantage of the majority party, and bills for a nonpartisan and independent district-drawing committee have died year after year at early morning hearings. It seems unlikely that change will come from this avenue, but that certainly hasn’t stopped groups from lobbying for change.

Executive: While the executive in Virginia doesn’t have any direct power in the redistricting process, past governors have made various moves ont he subject. A blue-ribbon commission, formed out of experts in the field of voting districts, was created, though none of their plans were adopted. However, after the 2010 census, Governor McDonnell signed an executive order to create a student competition for district plans, enabled by modern technology. This effectively solved the problem of party affiliation by involving actors who weren’t politicians, but the competition gave students only two months to solve an issue that had been around since the inception of the state. The Washington Post commented that the commission had been “designed to fail” and received little official support. It was funded by charitable donations and there was no guarantee that the winning plans would even be introduced.

Still, the results of public input in redistricting showed that public involvement could change stagnant districts formed for political advantage.

Judicial: The judiciary involved with redistricting when the challenge concerns violation of federal regulations on districting, as with the 2016 redistricting, is part of the federal court system instead of the state courts. This is notable because no laws made by the state legislature are able to interfere with federal rulings, which diminishes the concentration of redistricting power in the state legislature. Courts can rule that districts are unconstitutional, should be redrawn, or redrawn the districts themselves. While the 2016 redistricting was seen as a big step forward to more representative districts, we haven’t seen a noticeable impact in elected representation yet. Regardless, court decisions have a snowballing effect, and each decision brings us closer to a new standard of fair districting.


On a personal note, as my summer draws to a close, I’m glad that I was able to research such a current topic. Every time I told someone about my topic, they had suggestions and recommendations about articles they had read. While ill, I could still read about the different perspective and takes on the matter as new facts and proposals flowed in. In any case, I’m looking forward to presenting at the showcase and trying to fit all my knowledge into one trifold.

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