A panel of federal judges has chosen a new Virginia legislative map that makes several Republican-held districts more competitive, including two in Hampton Roads.
The decision to change 25 state House districts came Tuesday evening. The three-judge panel picked one of court-appointed map drawer Bernard Grofman’s nine options after hearing how he drew the maps in a hearing in Richmond two weeks ago.
Overall, the map makes Hampton Roads districts more compact, with fewer traversing multiple cities or counties. It also gives Democrats a few more reliably blue seats, important during an election year when the party needs to gain two seats to take control of the House of Delegates.
The new map is necessary because in June, a federal court ruled the current one unfairly put too many black voters into 11 legislative districts, including six in Hampton Roads.
House Republicans, led by Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, have appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear arguments in the next few months. They were rebuffed in their efforts to delay the remedial map drawing.
Grofman said he used the current district lines, drawn in 2011, as a basis for his maps, making as few changes as possible to remedy the racial gerrymandering.
He said didn’t use race as a primary factor, instead using city and county boundaries whenever feasible. Black voters make up less than 55 percent of the population in all of the Hampton Roads districts.
That same 55 percent threshold was used arbitrarily to dilute black votes in certain legislative districts, according to last year’s U.S. District Court ruling. But House Republicans say there was nothing improper in the 2011 redistricting plan’s target that the 11 districts be at least 55 percent black.
Grofman wrote that his maps were also drawn “in a fashion that is blind with respect to partisan outcomes,” without using election outcome data except where needed to avoid diluting minority votes.
On the Peninsula, the 94th District absorbs some black voters from the north end of the 95th District and a few from the 93rd District, making the 94th more reliably Democratic — by 13.6 points, according to a Virginia Public Access Project analysis that used 2012 presidential election data to determine which way the new districts would swing.
The 94th District is currently held by Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, who was elected in 2017 after a tie vote ended with his name being pulled out of a bowl.
Del. Michael Mullin’s Democratic 93rd District absorbs more York County voters, becoming 12 points more Republican. The percentage of black voters is reduced by nearly 12 percent in the 95th, represented by Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, as Grofman removes the panhandle snaking up the northeast side of Newport News and gets rid of Price’s constituents in Hampton by putting her district entirely in Newport News. The 95th was one of the districts the federal court said was racially gerrymandered in 2011, and VPAP anticipates it’ll move 13.7 points to the right.
In South Hampton Roads, only the 21st and the 84th districts remain untouched, although the 78th, 79th, 85th and 89th districts don’t change by much.
In Del. Chris Jones’ 76th District, the black voting-age population nearly doubles as Grofman moves the district entirely within the city of Suffolk. VPAP estimates a 27.4-point shift to the left.
Meanwhile, the 77th District, represented by Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Portsmouth, loses all of its Suffolk constituents and instead gets more residents of North Chesapeake, resulting in a more competitive seat.
The 81st and 83rd districts, represented by GOP delegates Barry Knight and Chris Stolle, respectively, also become a little more Democratic-leaning, according to VPAP.
Del. Joe Lindsey, D-Norfolk, loses nearly 15 percent of black voters in his 90th District, mostly from Virginia Beach, as the district moves wholly into the city of Norfolk.
Ten districts in Richmond and Petersburg were also altered, including Cox’s 66th District, where VPAP estimates it’ll shift Democratic by 32 points.
“The modules selected by the Court target senior Republicans, myself included, without a substantive basis in the law,” Cox said in an emailed statement Wednesday morning.
“Regardless of what the electoral map looks like in 2019, Republicans are prepared to defend and rebuild our majority in the House,” he added.
Grofman will have until Jan. 29 to put the final map together and can make minor technical corrections “necessary to harmonize” each option into the larger map that incorporates all 100 districts, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote in the order. Opposing parties can weigh in by Feb. 1.
After that, the court will officially order the map to be implemented.
It will be in place only for the 2019 state election. Lines will have to be redrawn again after the U.S. Census Bureau releases new demographic data in 2020.