More state legislators would live in Loudoun under proposed new House of Delegates and state Senate maps under consideration by the Virginia Redistricting Commission.
Currently, although parts of Loudoun are included in seven House of Delegates Districts and three Senate districts, only four state lawmakers live in Loudoun—Sen. John J. Bell (D-13), Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33), Del. David A. Reid (D-32) and Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87). Meanwhile, Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA-10)’s election in 2018 marked the first time that Loudoun’s representative in Congress lived in the county at least since before the Supreme Court’s 1964 ruling that districts must have roughly equal populations. The 10th Congressional District that today covers all of Loudoun reaches across Winchester to the northern and western boundaries with West Virginia, while also reaching in to pick off pieces of Fairfax as far east as Manassas and McLean.
That’s due to the meandering electoral districts in Virginia.
The commonwealth formerly was subject to the edicts of the Voting Rights Act, a federal law meant to combat drawing voting districts to suppress minority votes, and which was based on a history of using voting districts to control the voting populace. That law saw critical elements struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, but in March, Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, recreating many of the provisions of that law in the commonwealth.
State law calls for districts that are compact and “drawn to preserve communities of interest,” and that is being tested now with the work of the Virginia Redistricting Commission, the creation of which was approved by voters in a constitutional amendment last fall.
That commission is considering Democrat and Republican-proposed district maps for the House of Delegates and state Senate. In both House maps, at least four delegates would have to live in Loudoun—because their districts would be entirely contained within the county boarders. A fifth delegate would be elected from a district that covers southeastern Loudoun as far east as Gum Springs Road and all of Clarke County, also picking up Round Hill, Purcellville and Middleburg.
Both of those maps got overall high marks from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project run by Princeton University, although the reviewers noted the Republican proposal slightly favors Republicans—the Democrat proposal did not favor either party according to their analysis—and showed some signs of packing the Black vote, a gerrymandering tactic that crowds a population into fewer electoral districts to limit their influence in the legislature.
The most recent state Senate proposals put only two districts in Loudoun. One district would be contained entirely in eastern Loudoun, guaranteeing Loudoun at least one resident senator. The other would cover Loudoun from parts of Ashburn west, as well as all of Clarke County, making another Loudoun senator possible.
In that case, statewide, Republicans produced a much more unfair map, according to the Princeton project. While the Democrat proposal got high marks with no partisan advantage, the Republican proposal was given an “F” grade for its significant Republican advantage.
People who offered feedback during a virtual Northern Virginia hearing on the proposals Monday also offered up concerns that the maps were being drawn to protect incumbents.
“I know this is very, very hard for the political members of the commission, but as I’ve been listening over the last few weeks, many conversations start with concerns about incumbent addresses, and I really request—I know you put that at the bottom of your criteria list, and I request it as one of the last things you look at,” said Janet Martin of Springfield.
“We are basically undoing 400 years of history in Virginia,” she added. “It’s been a long, long history in Virginia, and just to sort to paraphrase Martin Luther King, it is high time to the hard work that it takes to bend the arc of history toward justice.”
The commission heard no feedback on Loudoun specifically—although some Loudouners did tune in to watch—but did also hear from Lois Maiden-McCray, of the National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization. That group is headed by Loudoun attorney and former Loudoun NAACP President Phillip Thompson.
Maiden-McCray joined other voices urging the commission to keep communities together—“the area that I live in, the common interest for us is mainly, for me, church and shopping,” she said. “I can go to church and I can shop, I’m good.”
And several others lifted up a map proposal from the public: New Virginia Majority’s proposal. That map is similar in Loudoun, although only three House of Delegates districts are contained entirely in the county. Two western districts both reach into Clarke County, and one into Frederick County. The group’s Senate proposal is more complicated, with three districts in Loudoun. Two of those would also reach into Fairfax, and the third wends its way down to include Fauquier, Rappahannock, and parts of Prince William and Culpeper Counties. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the group’s House of Delegates map a high grade comparable to the Democrat and Republican-proposed maps, but a lower grade to the Senate proposal.
The commission had planned to have a single, consensus map ready for public comment for the input sessions, but the panel—evenly divided between Democrat and Republican appointees—has so far been unable to reach an agreement. If it fails to produce maps by Oct. 10, the job will fall to the state Supreme Court.
The commission hasn’t yet put forth new maps for Virginia’s 11 Congressional Districts. Follow the commission’s work at VirginiaRedistricting.org.