Current Activities

Shining a Light This is a new report from the League of Women Voters of the United States providing a summary of Redistricting “lessons learned” and “kudos earned” during 2011.

Part One: Does Your Vote Really Count?

See the full Part One Paper.This paper provides background and a history of legal challenges associated with the topic.

This is the first of a two-part study to review the current LWVVA positions on Reapportionment and Redistricting.

Survey of Candidates Finds Support for Nonpartisan Redistricting:
This fall 2005 League of Women Voters of Virginia survey of candidates running for the House of Delegates found that candidates supported a nonpartisan, independent approach to redistricting by a margin of two to one.

Part Two: Does Your Vote Really Count?

See the full Part Two Paper. This is the second of a two-part study on the redistricting process in Virginia. Part One was published in September 2005 and addressed a number of issues, including U.S. Supreme Court decisions, types of gerrymandering of election districts, the Voting Rights Act of 1964, and a brief survey of redistricting commissions in some states.

Part Two presents results of recent Virginia legislative elections and a more detailed look at redistricting commissions in other states. It also presents information on the Virginia redistricting process and a comprehensive look at criteria that could be considered during the redistricting process.

Why Support Redistricting Reform?

For a printable copy of the following talking points, click LWV Redistricting Talking Points.

  • The League of Women Voters has a long history of fighting against attacks on the basic constitutional right to fair and equal representation guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution. Leagues have worked vigorously across the country to secure representative redistricting plans in their states after each census and are seeking reforms to assure that the redistricting process is nonpartisan, equitable and open. These are core rights for citizens of a free and democratic nation. They are core rights for the citizens of Virginia.
  • The League of Women Voters and other organizations believe that the current sharing of political power in the General Assembly provides the best opportunity for enactment of redistricting reform that we have had in recent decades + or may have in the future. This session could be one of the last opportunities to change the redistricting process before it is called upon to redraw Virginia’s legislative district lines for the 2011 elections.
  • The current system of redistricting in Virginia encourages partisan gerrymandering, which creates seats so politically skewed that the opposition has little chance of unseating the incumbent. This subverts the democratic system because it allows politicians to choose their voters, rather than vice versa. This turns representative government upside-down.
  • As has been the case nationwide, partisan gerrymandering has severely reduced the number of competitive seats in Virginia. When legislators redistrict to protect incumbents, then challengers are reluctant to invest their time and money in a nearly impossible challenge. In 2003, the number of competitive seats in Virginia was four of 40 in the Senate and nine of 100 in the House of Delegates. Sixty-nine Delegates had no major party opponent. This means that more than two-thirds of the Delegates did not face any major party opposition in 2003. The numbers in 2005 showed only a slight improvement. More than half of the candidates (51) for the House of Delegates ran unopposed and in an additional nine seats, there was only minor-party opposition. Thus, three-fifths of the Delegates did not face any major party opponent. Only twelve of the races for the 100 Delegate seats turned out to be competitive (races won with 55 percent of the vote or less).

Recent history is not pretty either. In the 2007 Virginia Senate races, incumbents in 17 of the 40 races had no opposition and only nine races were “competitive.” In the 100 House of Delegates races, 57 incumbents had no opposition and only 12 races were “competitive.” In the 2009 legislative elections, 32 of the 100 members of the General Assembly faced no opposition, and only 12 races were considered “competitive.”

  • In the 2004 and 2006 congressional races in Virginia, only one of eleven seats was competitive. In 2008, incumbents had no opposition in two of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts, and only three of the races were decided by a margin of fewer than 10 percentage points.
  • The lack of contested and competitive districts has contributed to a decreasing voter turnout in Virginia. The voter turnout for statewide and House of Delegates elections in 1997 was 49.5 percent; in 2001, it was 46 percent. In 2005, only 45 percent of Virginia’s registered voters participated in the statewide and House of Delegates elections, continuing a pattern of slow decline. The turnout in the 2003 House of Delegates elections, when there were no statewide races, was 31 percent. The 52.7 percent turnout in the 2006 heavily contested U.S. senatorial election was a marked contrast to the 39 percent turnout in 2002 when an incumbent U.S. Senator was contested by only two little-known candidates.

Recent voter turnout for November elections has shown a similar trend. In contrast to the 74.5 percent turnout for the 2008 presidential election, the turnout for the 2009 Virginia legislative elections in 40.4 percent, which was an improvement of the 30.2 percent turnout for the 2007 elections – the lowest reported by the State Board of Elections in its list going back to 1976.

  • One of most significant effects of partisan gerrymandering – in Virginia as elsewhere in the country — is its contribution to the increasing polarization in legislative bodies. As quoted in the LWV-VA study, Does Your Vote Really Count, “with little reason to fear voters, representatives increasingly cater to party insiders and donors rather than to the political center. . .; bipartisan compromise around moderate policies takes a backseat to party loyalty, resulting in historic levels of polarization.” This is certainly true of the Virginia General Assembly in recent years. The gerrymandered districts established in the 2001 redistricting have resulted in the election of candidates who are unwilling to compromise on legislation, the budget and transportation issues and funding.

Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy Talking Points: Gerrymandering and Redistricting ReformVirginia’s General Assembly convenes once a decade to redraw the lines of their electoral districts. While intended to balance out population shifts in the Commonwealth, the process has always been highly partisan. In 2011, a new round of redistricting will occur.

1. Partisan gerrymandering puts political considerations ahead of community interests.

2. Bipartisan redistricting increases governmental legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

3. Partisan gerrymandering results in legislative gridlock.

4. Bipartisan redistricting results in a more efficient government.

Partisan gerrymandering puts political considerations ahead of community interests.

  • Gerrymandering allows politicians to choose their constituents rather than the other way around.
  • Governments should encourage community cohesion, rather than division. Gerrymandering sometimes splits communities, which then lose one dedicated supporter for their issues and gain numerous representatives who can afford to ignore them politically. (Some notable examples are Joe Morrissey’s 74th House district, Chris Jones’ 76th House district, and Creigh Deed’s 25th Senatorial district.)
  • Gerrymandering creates “safe” districts which results in uncontested elections and reduced voter turnout.

Bipartisan redistricting increases governmental legitimacy.

  • Placing the power to draw district lines in an independent commission eliminates or reduces problems such as deadlock in drawing district lines that then requires Court intervention.
  • Politicians have a conflict of interest between creating fair districts and increasing their party’s political power and their own political safety.
  • Partisan redistricting allows a small majority to dominate one or both chambers of the General Assembly, marginalizing a significant bloc of voters statewide.

Partisan gerrymandering results in legislative gridlock.

  • Creation of gerrymandered “safe” districts usually results in the election of candidates who are at the extreme edges of their party and unwilling to compromise to enact legislation that is controversial in any way or not favored by political party leaders.
  • Due to the increase in “safe” seats, legislators have less of a need to compromise. By lowering the number of “safe” seats, bipartisan redistricting lessens both the likelihood of gridlock and partisan bias in decision-making.

A redistricting commission results in a more efficient government.

  • Statistically, maps crafted by bipartisan commissions result in less litigation, freeing up court dockets and saving taxpayers’ money in court operation.
  • By shifting redistricting responsibility to a commission, legislators have more time to tend to the people’s business, like passing a state budget or reaching a solution on transportation funding, during the normal session.
  • Legislators elected from competitive, non-gerrymandered districts are more likely to enact legislation based on its merits and the good of the Commonwealth rather than on party-line directives.

League Action

  • League and Coalition Partners Issue Redistricting Report: The League of Women Voters joined coalition partners in releasing a report titled, Building A National Redistricting Reform Movement and offers guidance for state-level redistricting reform efforts. LWVUS Executive Director Nancy Tate joined other groups in releasing the report at a press event in Washington, D.C. (November 1, 2006)
  • US Supreme Court Texas Redistricting Case: The US Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated decision in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, (LULAC v. Perry), the so-called Texas Redistricting Case. The following articles detail information about the League’s efforts and position regarding this case and the decision (June 28, 2006):- Redistricting — Supreme Court Rules in the ‘Texas Case’ LWVVA Redistricting Committee synopsis of the Supreme Court decision (July 26, 2006).- Latest News on the Texas Case:

– On Friday, August 4th, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas adopted a plan to address the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that the Texas 23rd congressional district as redrawn in the mid-decade redistricting plan violated section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Rather than adopt any of the 14 plans submitted to the court, it adopted a plan that it had prepared that requires changes in congressional districts 15, 21, 23, 25, and 28. It results in an additional Latino opportunity district without disturbing communities of interest, enables all incumbents to run in their current districts, and provides for a greater degree of compactness than the legislatively drawn plan. The full effect of the changes won’t be seen until the fall elections results. (August 2006)

– Of the 5 congressional districts affected by the district court’s August redistricting plan, only one incumbent was in danger of losing following the November 7 election returns. The Democratic incumbents in the 15th, 25th and 28th districts and the Republic incumbent in the 21st district were reelected. In the 23rd district, which was the redrawn district struck down by the Supreme Court as being in violation of the Voting Rights Act minority protection provisions, the Republican incumbent, Henry Bonilla, garnered less than 50 percent of the vote. Under special provisions of the August redistricting plan, he will face Ciro Rodriguez in a December run-off election. Rodriguez, who had lost his seat as a result of the DeLay engineered 2003 redistricting and who was one of 6 Democratic candidates in what was basically an open primary, had the second highest percentage of votes. Only one congressional district in Texas changed hands in the election. Tom DeLay’s 22nd district was left without a Republican candidate when he withdrew, and the write-in candidate failed in her attempt to defeat Democratic candidate Nick Lampson. Lampson was another Democratic candidate who had been ousted by the 2003 redistricting. (November 8, 2006)

– The December 12th runoff election in the newly-redrawn Texas 23rd Congressional District election resulted in the victory of Democratic candidate (and former congressman) Ciro Rodriguez over incumbent Republican Henry Bonilla (54-45%) The Democrats thus reclaimed two of the Texas congressional seats that they lost in the 2003 redistricting engineered by former Congressman Tom Delay. (December 12, 2006)

Presentation Materials & Leaders Available

Representatives of the League of Women Voters of Virginia are available to lead short programs about redistricting in the state. You can download a copy of the presentation’s handout materials here. (They are current as of April 20, 2006.)

Other Resources

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