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Ken Plum: Unraveling the mysteries of redistricting

In the very near future Virginia will receive its official population numbers from the 2010 census. Our numbers are among the first to be issued because our off-year elections require us to redraw our legislative district lines in time for the 2011 fall elections. Follow the progress of the census results being made available at Preliminary estimates make it clear that Virginia will not be getting another federal Congressional seat. Our rate of growth relative to the Nation will keep our Congressional delegation at 11 members. Within the state there has been a substantial shift in population with the south central and western regions of the Commonwealth losing actual population or growing at a rate much less than the state as a whole. Northern Virginia especially Loudoun and Prince William counties experienced the greatest rate and number in population growth and can expect an increase in legislative representation.

The purpose of legislative redistricting is to use the new census numbers to redraw legislative districts lines around an equal or nearly equal number of persons to make representation in the legislative bodies equal. “One man- one vote” as the Supreme Court termed the process. The total population number announced by the U.S. Census Bureau will be divided by 11 to determine the number of persons to be in each Congressional District, and the Supreme Court has decided that the each district must contain exactly that number of persons as practicable. The total will be divided by 100 to determine the population of each House of Delegates district. In 2000 that number was 70,790; in 2010 it is expected to be about 78,911. The total divided by 40 senate districts will yield districts estimated at 197,277. The total numbers of seats in the House of Delegates and the State Senate are established in the State Constitution. Local governments will go through the same exercise to determine the population for equal magisterial or council districts.

The regular General Assembly session is scheduled to adjourn on February 26. A special session is likely to be called for immediately after that for purposes of redistricting. The special session will be recessed then for the redistricting process to take place. A plan could be adopted as early as May or June. Federal law requires a review by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act to ensure that minorities are not unfairly disadvantaged under the new plan. It could also be challenged in federal court if the plan is alleged to violate the civil rights of some of the citizens. A final plan may not be known until July or August. The election calendar will be modified with the deadline for candidate selection moved to as late as August 15 for the November election.

An excellent resource for learning more about the redistricting process can be found at Click on Drawing the Line 2011. Another source of understanding the impact of population shifts can be found on the Virginia Public Access Project site at

Of course, the description above is the technical part of redistricting. The part of the process that can have the greatest impact on individuals and communities is the partisanship that inevitably takes over when legislators attempt to draw district lines. “Gerrymandering” becomes part of the process as voters are included or excluded in a district based on their voting patterns. As some describe it, “legislators choose their voters rather than voters choosing their legislators.” Legislation that I have introduced in the past and will introduce again this year would put the job into the hands of an independent commission. Hopefully this description will have removed some of the mystery of the redistricting process for you. Questions can be directed to me at

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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