State Senate Prepares for Redistricting Fight
Redistricting issue comes up every ten years
The Virginia state legislature starts a revolution in Virginia politics this spring when it creates a new state senate seat in Northern Virginia thus changing the boundaries of all 40 state senate districts.
The Virginia House of Delegates will also create an undetermined number of new house seats to accommodate the growth in Prince William and Loudoun counties.
The political lives of Virginia's 11 congressmen could also be upset by redrawing lines for their districts.
Welcome to the decennial sweepstakes over power and politics in Virginia. Every 10 years the Virgina state legislature moves around the political boundary lines to accommodate population change in the state. The 2011 redistricting battle should be even tougher because the House of Delegates and the Governor's office are controlled by Republicans. The Democrats control the Virginia Senate. All three must agree on a final redistricting plan.
State Sen. Janet Howell will be a key player in this year's redistricting battle because she heads the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.
"We are charged with approving a redistricting plan for the state Senate and, along with the House, the U.S. Congressional districts," she said.
"We now know the population total for Virginia," said Howell. " We also know that Northern Virginia will pick up a Senate seat. However, since the population growth is uneven, the impact on various districts is going to vary. One thing for certain, every Senate seat will have to be changed significantly," she said.
"We do not know where the (new) district will be because Census will not send the needed data until February. Lots of people are creating scenarios, but I think it is premature," said Howell, who started holding hearings on redistricting this fall.
The U.S. Census Bureau counts every man, woman and child in the United States every 10 years. Those numbers ignite redistricting battles across the country. Last week, the Census Bureau announced that Virginia's population had grown to 8 million folks. The congressional delegation stayed at 11.
While Howell and her committee work on a plan in the Senate, her Republican counterpart, Del. Mark Cole, of Fredericksburg, will be doing the same thing in the House of Delegates.
The backdrop for the redistricting battle: every seat in the Virginia legislature is up for election in November 2011.
The state legislature has a small time window to agree on a plan. Here's the time line from the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit that follows Virginia Politics (VPAP). General redistricting time-line:
- The Virginia Legislature holds its annual session from January-March. Then in March or April they will hold a special session to craft a redistricting plan.
- Redistricting plans are introduced as legislation in the House of Delegates and the State Senate. Each chamber must agree to the same plan. That plan then goes to the governor.
- Once Virginia officials have a plan that plan goes to the U. S. Department of Justice for review. Virginia is one of 11 southern states covered by the 1965 Voting Rights law because for a century Virginia effectively denied African-Americans the right to vote. The Justice Department tries to insure that minorities are treated fairly in the state's redistricting plan. They can reject the plan.
- The legislature returns in summer to work on the congressional district lines. Congressional races are held in 2012.
- The Virgina primary, usually held in June, will be moved to late summer or early fall.
- November 2011 state elections. Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states that elect their state legislatures in off-year elections.
To view a video explaining the redistricting process click here.