Part 1: The WA Legislature
The Virginia Legislature consists of a State Senate with 40 members and a House of Delegates with 100 members. In 2020, the state passed a constitutional amendment to create a new independent redistricting commission, whose proponents claimed would prevent the state from being gerrymandered as it has been frequently in the past. However, when the new districts were ultimately revealed, the claim that the commission would prevent Republican gerrymandering was demonstrated to be completely false. While the maps are not extreme Republican gerrymanders like those in neighboring North Carolina, they are Republican gerrymanders nonetheless, which prevented Democrats from winning several additional seats in this year’s elections that Dems would’ve won otherwise. And in a Democratic-leaning state like Virginia, there’s no reason why the state legislative maps should have any level of Republican gerrymandering at all.
Here are some examples of how Virginia’s state legislative maps are Republican gerrymanders:
District 27 (Fredericksburg area): The district includes several heavily Republican precincts west of Fredericksburg, while excluding the much purpler precincts to the south and southeast of Fredericksburg (those are sunk into the heavily Republican 25th). Considering that Republicans only won the 27th by a 2% margin, that subtle decision may have cost Dems the seat.
District 24 (Newport News/Williamsburg/Poquoson): The previous map had one district based in Hampton and another based in Newport News, and both were Democratic. However, the commission combined Hampton with the bluest areas of Newport News, and left the remainder of the city with the much-redder York County and especially deep-red Poquoson, which voted 78-22 Republican and provided the Republican’s entire margin of victory there.
Several other state senate districts favor Republicans in small ways, but those were the two biggest (and costliest for Dems) examples.
There are many more examples in the state House:
District 41 (Blacksburg): The commission combined the Democratic city of Blacksburg with heavily Republican areas to its south and east, and carefully drew this district to avoid the nearby, Democratic-leaning city of Radford. Combining the two and dropping the Republican areas would make for a pretty solidly Democratic district.
District 57 (western Henrico & part of Goochland): This is the district Susanna Gibson ran in. Her district is a ridiculous and inexcusable Republican gerrymander, pairing Dem-leaning suburban areas in Henrico County with several rural, heavily Republican precincts in Goochland County. There’s really no reason to draw the district like that except to make it more likely that a Republican will win. And in fact, Gibson won the Henrico portion of the district — she just lost the Goochland portion in a landslide, which is why she narrowly lost overall.
District 59: This district contains parts of Louisa and Hanover counties… and then reaches into Henrico County, for no reason other than Republican gerrymandering, to pick up some Dem-leaning precincts there. Those Dem-leaning precincts are adjacent to the 57th district, and should’ve gone in it, and would’ve given Susanna Gibson the victory if they had.
District 82: The Republican gerrymanderers on the commission put the heavily African-American city of Petersburg with lots of rural, heavily Republican countryside in Dinwiddie and Prince George counties. Petersburg should’ve gone with either Hopewell or the African-American majority Southside counties instead to make it one that an African-American would certainly win (a white Republican very narrowly defeated an African-American Democrat there).
District 71: Heavily Democratic Williamsburg and Dem-trending James City County were put with part of heavily Republican New Kent County, which, just like Goochland in the 57th, is solely responsible for this district electing a Republican.
District 86: Part of heavily Democratic Hampton was placed in the same district as the aforementioned deep-red city of Poquoson, which despite its geographic proximity is about as demographically and politically different from Hampton as humanly possible.
District 89: This district in Suffolk and Chesapeake was drawn very carefully so it would lean Republican while the neighboring 91st is a Democratic vote sink.
What can we do about this? The most important thing we Democrats can do about it right now is spread the word. Far too many Democrats still believe that independent redistricting commissions are the answer to our problems, when in reality they just allow Republican gerrymanders to be drawn in Democratic states. Once Democrats understand that independent redistricting commissions in blue states only help Republicans, we can repeal the commissions (and prevent any new ones from being implemented), and draw maps that will give Democrats all the seats we deserve, in both the state legislature and Congress.