Thursday, March 31, 2011

Virginia Senate redistricting plan designed to invite litigation, Part Two: The problem districts

For other redistricting posts, primary sources, and other information regarding the Virginia Redistricting process in 2011 please see The Road to Redistricting Litigation in Virginia.

In Part One I addressed the legal underpinnings and difficulties in challenging a redistricting plan on the grounds that a district is not compact or contiguous as required by the Virginia Constitution.

Part One can be found here:

The problem districts

In short, the Howell Plan is a mess.  The Senators, in developing this plan, may very well have taken all of the other Constitutional and statutory requirements for redistricting into consideration but approximately one third of all Senate districts appear to have been drawn with little or no consideration for compactness. Following is a list of what appear to be the least compact districts with the top five singled out:

Least compact: 8, 9, 13, 15, 16, 18, 21, 29, 31, 32, 33, 37.

The top five least compact Districts in the Howell Plan and most likely to lead to litigation:

5. District 2 - District 2 picks up substantial portions of the Hampton Roads Newport News area but then jumps across the James River to pick up three oddly carved precincts called thirty seven, thirty eight, and thirty nine.  On the shore of Virginia it is not odd that one would have a body of water between one portion of the district and the remainder of the district. What is odd is that the district crosses a substantial body of water in order to include three small precincts which are surrounded by multiple other districts.

4. District 1 - District 1 runs alongside District 2. In order for District 1 to run all the way down to the southern portion of its peninsula the Downtown precinct in Newport News has been split in order for District 1 to hug the coast.  The district then jumps across the James to grab one precinct, Harbour View, despite the fact that this one precinct is surrounded by other districts.

3. District 36 - District 36 does not have one unique quality that makes it especially offensive. The district begins in Stafford and Prince William counties and meanders up the Potomac and into Fairfax County.  Parts of the Featherstone, Rippon, and River Oaks precincts have been carved in such a way that they are accessible to each other only via water.  Up in Fairfax County in order to place portions of the Villages and Franconia precincts in District 36 the district narrows as small as one half and three quarters of a mile in two different places.  In order to include the Wilton precinct a portion of the district narrows to approximately 1/3 of mile. This district contains so many unnecessary and seemingly gerrymandered portions, it is more likely to warrant a challenge than many of the other meandering districts.

2. District 30 - District 30 stretches from South Arlington down to Fort Belvoir. To include the Hayfield precinct a sliver of the Villages precinct was carved to create a bottleneck to maintain contiguity.  This bottleneck appears to be approximately 700 feet wide.  More importantly to connect Alexandria with Mount Vernon the district runs along the Potomac River. The Hollinhall precinct was carved to create a neck to connect the two large land masses of District 30. This neck appears to be approximately 800 feet wide. District 30 represents a blatant gerrymander.

1.  District 3 - You must look at District 3.  District 3 is on the Chesapeake Bay and tidewater portions of the Commonwealth.  District 3 covers gerrymandered portions of three major peninsulas and areas on the southern part of the James River.  To travel from one end of the district to the other, without leaving the district, one would have to cross three major bodies of water.  Additionally two precincts on the James River appear to have been severed for no reason, Bacon’s Castle appears to no longer be connected to Rushmere.  The entire area along the southern coast of the James River appears out of place, and barely, if at all contiguous with the rest of the district.  If any district would impose substantial difficulties on representation, it is this district.  For these reasons District 3 is the most likely district to warrant a viable challenge on the grounds that it is not compact or contiguous.


All of this does not matter if no one bothers to challenge these plans.  Perhaps the Senate Democrats will realize the follow of pursuing this plan as it stands, and tighten some of the districts before a final vote.  Otherwise, we are probably looking to see the Virginia Supreme Court define compact and contiguous even further.

A final note: The problem districts as I have identified them are nothing more than my personal opinion.  Any party wishing to bring these matters to court should consult an attorney and hire a third party expert to do an analysis, preferably before filing a lawsuit.

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