Jan 24, 2022

Virginia Redistricting Plan Shifts Political Landscape, Long-Term Impact Likely

The Virginia political landscape is shifting dramatically. Not only does the Old Dominion have a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and a new House Republican majority, but the Virginia Supreme Court approved a new redistricting plan that will have major ramifications over the next decade.

A few key takeaways from the new districts:

  • Half of the Virginia state senators are either paired or tripled in districts with other sitting senators, with 18 double-ups and two triple-ups.
  • There are 11 new state senate districts without current incumbents.
  • 42 out of the 100 delegates are paired or tripled in districts with other sitting delegates, with 40 double-ups and two triple-ups.
  • There are 23 new state house districts without current incumbents.
  • Three members of Congress were drawn out of their current districts, leaving no incumbent to reside within the new boundary.

Why does this matter?

There will likely be significant shifts in seniority and representation, both in the Virginia congressional delegation and the Virginia General Assembly. We will likely see some unanticipated retirements and others who run for different offices. There will be a swath of legislators with new portfolios, which will have lasting impacts over the next decade. Those who recognize these environmental changes and educate new legislators on their issues will be successful.

Background and Process

The Supreme Court of Virginia unanimously approved in late December 2021 the final maps for congressional and general assembly districts for the next decade. Every 10 years, states are required to update legislative district boundaries (state and federal) based on the previous year’s U.S. census data.

In the 2020 election, Virginia voters approved an amendment to the Constitution of Virginia establishing a redistricting commission composed of state legislators and other citizens of the commonwealth. The commission was tasked with drafting and approving state and congressional district maps.

If consensus failed among commission members and no maps were approved by a set deadline, the constitutional amendment would require the Supreme Court of Virginia to take over the map-making process, which is what occurred in fall 2021.

Under the Supreme Court’s process, two “special masters,” who are experts in this field, were appointed by the court to create the new maps. Both political parties, Republican and Democrat, put forth names for special masters and one from each was selected.

In addition to considering public comment, the new maps were to follow general criteria for compactness, political competitiveness and communities of interest; however, debate ensued regarding whether to consider incumbent residency and the pairing of one or more sitting legislators in the same district. In the special masters’ approved maps, avoiding such pairings was not a priority.


State Legislative Districts

The new Virginia General Assembly district lines create several incumbent pairings in the House of Delegates and the Senate, and in some cases, create new districts where no incumbent currently lives. In most instances, pairings have two incumbents of the same party drawn into the same district. Moreover, several of these pairings affect members in seniority or in leadership roles. All of this raises uncertainty for the next election cycle.

Under Virginia law, state legislators must reside in the districts they represent. This presents a question for these current members in paired districts: Run against a colleague, move and run in a new district, or retire from the Virginia General Assembly. One element that will play a key role in these decisions is, of course, the political performance of the new districts.

In the Senate of Virginia, half of the entire 40-member chamber has been paired or tripled with other sitting senators. Here is the breakdown:

Roanoke/Lynchburg region:

  • John Edwards (D) and David Suetterlein (R)
  • Steve Newman (R) and Mark Peake (R)

Valley/Western region:

  • Creigh Deeds (D), Emmett Hanger (R) and Mark Obenshain (R)

Richmond/Peninsula region:

  • Amanda Chase (R) and Ghazala Hashmi (D)
  • Ryan McDougle (R) and Tommy Norment (R)

Tidewater region:

  • Bill DeSteph (R), Jen Kiggans (R) and Lynwood Lewis (D)
  • Louise Lucas (D) and Lionell Spruill (D)

Northern Virginia region:

  • Jennifer Boysko (D) and Janet Howell (D)
  • Dave Marsden (D) and Dick Saslaw (D)

There are 11 new Senate districts without a current incumbent.

In the House of Delegates, nearly half of the 100 districts have paired incumbents.

Southwest/Southside region:

  • Israel O’Quinn (R) and Will Wampler (R)
  • Marie March (R) and Wren Williams (R)
  • James Edmunds (R) and Danny Marshall (R)

Roanoke/Lynchburg region:

  • Terry Austin (R) and Chris Head (R)
  • John Avoli (R) and Ronnie Campbell (R)
  • Kathy Byron (R) and Wendell Walker (R)

Richmond region:

  • Buddy Fowler (R) and Scott Wyatt (R)
  • Lamont Bagby (D) and Schuyler VanValkenburg (D)

Tidewater region:

  • Glenn Davis (R), Kelly Fowler (D) and Barry Knight (R)
  • Cliff Hayes (D) and Jay Leftwich (R)
  • Nadarius Clark (D) and Don Scott (D)
  • C. Cordoza (R) and Jeion Ward (D)
  • Tim Anderson (R) and Rob Bloxom (R)

Northern Neck region:

  • Bobby Orrock (R) and Margaret Ransone (R)

Northern Virginia region:

  • Elizabeth Guzman (D) and Luke Torian (D)
  • Eileen Filler-Corn (D) and Kathy Tran (D)
  • David Bulova (D) and Dan Helmer (D)
  • Kaye Kory (D) and Marcus Simon (D)
  • Kathleen Murphy (D) and Rip Sullivan (D)
  • Dave LaRock (R) and Michael Webert (R)

There are more than 20 new House districts without a current incumbent.

Congressional Districts

Virginia’s 11 seats in the House of Representatives also saw significant change in the new districts, and incumbent pairings are seen here as well. However, members of Congress are not required to live in the districts they represent, creating less of a challenge for incumbents seeking another term.

Three incumbents — Griffith (9th), Luria (2nd) and Spanberger (7th) — were drawn out of their current districts, leaving no incumbent to reside within the new boundary.

Congressman Griffith was drawn into the 6th district with Congressman Cline. Congresswoman Luria was drawn into the 3rd with Congressman Scott. And Congresswoman Spanberger was drawn into the 1st district with Congressman Wittman. Both Griffith and Spanberger have announced their intentions to run for reelection in their newly drawn districts (where they currently do not reside). In the case of Luria, she has yet to announce her intentions but does own a second home within the boundaries of the newly drawn 2nd.

Timing and Partisanship

The new maps for congressional and general assembly districts went into effect immediately after the Supreme Court of Virginia issued the order. The congressional lines will be used for the midterm elections in November 2022, and the maps for the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia will be in effect for the next scheduled general election in 2023. However, pending litigation could determine if members of the House of Delegates must run again in 2022 under the new districts.

According to election data from the Virginia Public Access Project, partisanship lean is unlikely to change greatly under the new maps.

In the Senate of Virginia, the current makeup is 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans. Under the new maps and using partisan performance from the 2016 presidential election, there is one less projected “toss up” district and Democrats gain one additional (up to 16) strong Democrat seat. This means, in off-year elections like 2023, a 20-20 tie is still very much a possibility.

In the House of Delegates, the current makeup following the 2021 elections is 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats. The new maps again are unlikely to offer substantial change in terms of party control. Using the same 2016 data, both Democrats and Republicans gain strong and likely seats, with Democrats having a slight advantage. With each caucus strengthening its respective floors, the number of toss-up districts lessens to just 10 seats.

Virginia’s current congressional delegation is seven Democrats and four Republicans. Party performance for congressional districts using 2016 data appears to go largely unchanged from the current five likely or strong Democratic seats and five likely or strong Republican seats, leaving the same single seat as a toss-up.

As a caveat to the projections for partisan performance, using 2016 presidential election data is simply a baseline. In off-year elections when the president is not on the ballot, partisan strengths are likely to shift.