Every ten years, Virginia goes through a process of redistricting based on the results of the latest U.S. Census. The goal is to create legislative districts for both the General Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives that are relatively equal in population. Unfortunately, often times district are drawn in such a way to aid or hinder the reelection of incumbent politicians, enhance or dilute the voting strength of minority groups, or draw districts that virtually guarantee the victory of a political party. This sort of behavior is called gerrymandering, named after former Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry.
During the last redistricting following the 2010 census, as the Republicans controlled the House of Delegates and the Democrats controlled the Virginia Senate, each group drew some rather oddly shaped parcels of land in an attempt to maintain or enhance control of their respective bodies. However, when the Republicans later gained the majority in the Senate, some called for new districts to be drawn prior to the next census. Although I’m not a fan of Speaker of the House of Delegates Howell, fortunately, he declared such an attempt to re-gerrymander the state at that time as improper and wouldn’t let it proceed.
After the 2020 census, Virginia lawmakers will once again redraw our districts. and, barring some surprise, the Republicans will have control of both of the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate. However, the House of Delegates map, the Virginia Senate map, and the House of Representatives map will all have to be approved or vetoed by the governor.
So far, conservatives in Virginia don’t have a whole lot to be excited about with the candidacy of the Republican nominee Ed Gillespie. However, last month one of my fellow activists announced that he would be supporting Gillespie simply due to the issue of redistricting. As he explained, “Whoever is elected governor in November will be signing the redistricting bill this next time. As fast as Virginia is going blue, it is imperative that that person be a Republican. That buys us ten more years before the Democrats can gerrymander the districts in the legislature. If you don’t think that matters, you aren’t paying attention.”
Although couched in anti-gerrymandering rhetoric, given the current makeup of the General Assembly, it is highly improbable that the Democrats will end up drawing the maps in 2021. The Republicans presently enjoy a slim control in the Virginia Senate and a massive 66-34 majority in the House of Delegates.
He goes on to add, “I have plenty of reasons not to trust most Republicans for their principles. But one thing a Republican Governor assuredly will do is sign a Republican-friendly redistricting bill.” What the argument here is that we need to elect a Republican governor so that the Republicans can gerrymander the state after the next census to forestall an increasingly Democratic-leaning state from representing the will of the citizens of Virginia by electing more Democrats. Doesn’t it seem odd that Republicans control the state government even though every Democrat has won the statewide vote since the 2009 elections? Could gerrymandering be one of the reasons why?
Imagine for a moment if the roles were reversed if the Democratic Party controlled the General Assembly and sought to suppress the Republican vote. Wouldn’t these very same activists be outraged, declaring that such a move was undemocratic and an affront to the principles of our republican form of government? Shouldn’t we promote a system where voters get to choose their elected officials rather than elected officials choosing their pool of voters who they know will vote for them year after year regardless of their principles or job performance?
Until 1996, the Democratic Party controlled both houses of the Virginia General Assembly nearly uninterrupted for a hundred years. During that period, how often did they use gerrymandering to thwart the shifting attitudes of Virginians who longed for a government not under single party rule? Wouldn’t any advocate of liberty and personal responsibility be horrified if our elections were manipulated in such a fashion? Or would they be okay with this plan so long as it was “their guys” reaping the political benefit? I can’t speak for anyone else, but after 2021 redistricting I don’t want a Republican-friendly map, a Democratic-friendly map, or any map that treats Virginia as a pie to be carved up for the benefit of a political group. Preventing gerrymandering might be an argument in favor of a government divided between two or more political parties. Don’t we want a governor that will oppose partisan redistricting, not one who is aiding and abetting in it?
It is my sincere hope that all three of the candidates for governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, Libertarian Cliff Hyra, and Republican Ed Gillespie, will pledge to oppose any and all partisan redistricting, instead working to make sure that all districts are as compact as possible, cutting across few county and city lines so that the will of Virginia’s citizens can be more accurately reflected in our state government and elections can be fairer and maybe even competitive. If a candidate refuses, he shouldn’t be considered an acceptable option for governor. Don’t vote for a candidate who is good friends with Jerry Mandering!
For more information, check out this video from One Virginia 2021.