Redistricting group sues election officials for gerrymandering

A group of Virginians aiming to redraw the state’s congressional districts for voters has sued election officials across 11 districts in the Senate and House of Delegates — including some in the Richmond area.

The group, OneVirginia2021, is a non-profit group pushing for nonpartisan redistricting. They said that in the most recent round of redistricting — which was conducted after the 2010 census and approved by former Governor Robert McDonnell in 2011 — districts were redrawn to give incumbents a greater chance at holding their seats in Congress. It also argues that some districts such as the third congressional district, which includes Richmond, are not compact.

OneVirginia2021’s lawsuit is the third this year that has been filed targeting the maps that determine Virginia’s congressional districts. One of the two previous lawsuits stated that lawmakers illegally packed African-American voters into both state and federal districts in order to diminish their influence in surrounding districts.

As a result, a panel of federal judges ordered the General Assembly to come up with a new congressional map by Sept. 1, 2015. When lawmakers did not reach an agreement, the court appointed Bernard Grofman, an economics and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, to assist in redrawing the districts boundaries.

Judges are still delegating challenges across the 12 House districts targeted in the second lawsuit. Both of the previous efforts were funded by the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, an organization that claims to be “in charge of advancing Democratic congressional redistricting efforts following the 2010 census,” according to its website.

The third lawsuit was filed by OneVirginia2021. Their attorney, Wyatt Durrette, is a former Republican delegate. The Virginia Board of Elections is named the defendant in the case. The board of elections consists of three members and Elections Commissioner, Edgardo Cortés.

“Our goal is to influence the courts to require the legislature to honor the Constitution when it draws political districts and not subjugate the Constitution to blatant political gerrymandering,” Durrette told the Washington Post on Sept. 14.

Virginia’s constitution requires that all voter districts be “composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district.”

“Like the other two requirements in the state Constitution — equal population and contiguity — compactness can be measured and held to a reasonable standard,” said OneVirginia2021 Executive Director Brian Cannon. “Far from having a standard, the legislature effectively ignored the Constitution on this point, and gave us distorted, weirdly shaped districts that break up communities and rig elections by depriving voters of meaningful competition.”

The lawsuit was brought forward by more than a dozen people, coming from a broad range of Virginians across the political aisle, including Sandra Bowen, who was the former Secretary of Administration under Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) when he was governor; Robert Ukrop, a philanthropist and former president of the Richmond grocery chain Ukrop’s; Dale Swanson, of the Fredericksburg Tea Party Patriots; and Dianne Blais, co-president of the League of women Voters of Virginia.

House Speaker William Howell (R-Stafford) argued that the current districts are drawn fairly and the current process for drawing maps works fine.

“Unfortunately, this is another political lawsuit that will cost taxpayers,” said Howell’s spokesman, Matt Moran. “Contiguity and compactness were one of the top priorities used in developing the current House districts.”

If the lawsuit is successful, it would scrap the current maps and send lawmakers scrambling to compete in elections in new districts and representing some new constituency. All 140 legislative seats are up for election on Nov. 3., but the suit does not seek to block that election, but to bar future General Assembly elections until the legislative map is redrawn to comply with the state constitution’s requirement of compactness.

Fadel Allassan, Staff Writer

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.11.49 PMFadel is a sophomore print journalism major. He is fluent in English and French and enjoys writing about politics. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

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