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Redistrict bill vote explained

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

From Bulletin staff reports

In a newsletter to constituents, State Sen. Bill Stanley said there were good reasons for amending House Bill 259 to redraw Senate districts.

Boundaries adopted in 2011 by the Democratic-controlled Senate “fell far short of Virginia’s traditional redistricting criteria. Districts are supposed to (be) compact, but those approved were sprawling and meandering,” wrote Stanley, R-Glade Hill, who was among the 20 Republicans in the now GOP-controlled Senate who supported the measure Jan. 21.

The proposal was opposed by 19 Democrats. Since the vote was taken while one Democratic senator was absent, the measure was approved 20-19.

That drew ire from many, including Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has said he is concerned that fallout from the vote will make support for his transportation package more difficult to come by.

Efforts to reach Stanley by phone have been unsuccessful.

However, in his latest newsletter, he wrote that districts are “supposed to combine communities with similar interests, but those approved did the opposite, gratuitously splitting counties, cities, towns and individual precincts using partisan voting histories as the primary guideline.”

He also noted that districts “are supposed to have populations that are reasonably equal to ensure the principle of one-person-one-vote, but those approved were wildly disparate in population.”

All of those shortcomings “needed to be corrected,” he wrote.

The plan moves Henry County and Martinsville from Stanley’s current 20th District — which also includes parts of Pittsylvania, Carroll, Franklin and Halifax counties — to the 15th District, with Charlotte and Lunenburg counties and parts of Danville and Pittsylvania, Halifax, Mecklenburg and Prince Edward counties, according to a legislative website.

Patrick County — which also is in the 20th Senatorial District — would move to the 40th District along with Bristol and Galax as well as Carroll, Grayson, Smyth and Washington counties and parts of Floyd and Scott counties, according to the plan.

The redrawn 20th District would include all of Franklin and Montgomery counties and Radford, as well as parts of Roanoke County, according to the website.

Most of the news reports about the redistricting issue “have only been telling part of the story,” Stanley said.

“One deficiency in particular had to be rectified to ensure Virginia’s full compliance with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act,” he said.

In 1991, he noted that Virginia had two black majority Senate districts, “which the act requires where there is a large enough minority population in a reasonably compact area.”

At the time, Gov. Douglas Wilder “insisted that the number of majority-minority districts be increased from two to five,” Stanley wrote. “Twenty-two years later, there are still five such districts, even though the population is sufficient to create a sixth.”

Stanley maintains that the plan approved by the Senate “corrects this deficiency and creates the sixth African-American majority-minority” Senate district. It basically “inoculates Virginia from potentially costly and unnecessary litigation under potential further violations of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act,” the senator wrote.

He added that when a new district is created, all of the others have to change, “and while no plan for drawing borders for districts is perfect, the new one corrects all the deficiencies of the current map” by making them “significantly more compact,” splitting fewer localities, keeping similar communities in the same district wherever possible “and are closer in population.”

If the changes are approved by the House and if McDonnell signs off on it, the plan also must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. Any changes would not take effect until the 2015 election.


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