It is often said that the most partisan activity of legislatures is the decennial review and re-calculation of legislative district boundaries. In the year preceding the “re-districting” activities the U.S. Bureau of the Census hires thousands of part- and full-time employees.
Legislative re-districting, required every ten years, is taking much of the General Assembly’s time and attention for the next two weeks at a minimum.
In the past two years, legislation has been introduced to change the process of changing the “lines” -the borders-of legislative districts. Constitutional amendments have been introduced in both bodies requiring “non-partisan” redistricting, but they have not passed.
However, ths year’s dynamics may be different because, contrary to past re-districting, such as in 1991 and 2001, the Senate and House majorities are different: Democratic Senate and Republican House. Further, because the Republican majority in the House is 61%, while the Senate Democratic majority is 55% (22 of 40 members), the possibility of deadlock is greater than in the past, but far from certain.
Also, we must remember that the districts of members of the U.S. Congress must be acted on by the House, the Senate and the Governor. According to news reports, the 11 current members of the House of Representatives (eight Republicans and three Democrats) have unanimously agreed to accept their current districts.
Deadlock would be new to Virginia, but theoretically it could result in non-partisan drawing of legislative lines. Whether those lines (House, Senate and/or House of Representatives) would then be subject to gubernatorial veto and/or amendment could be another variable that would at least delay the campaigns until candidates are certain of their constituencies.
Because all city legislative officials, except the Mayor (who is elected from the Council and by the Council), are elected at large by popular vote, the Town Council, the Treasurer, the Commissioner of the Revenue are not subject to the same laws as the County of Fairfax, where each of the nine district supervisors are elected separately, with the chairman being elected by the voters in the whole county. In Fairfax County, unlike Falls Church, each citizen votes for only two local officials.
In addition, the day of the City elections-recently changed by the Council from May to November to encourage higher voter participation-is somewhat in limbo. The current Council has voted to return City elections to May, but that decision must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department because the significantly smaller turnout in May could be found to disadvantage minority voters.
In short, this election year promises to be different from any this native Virginian can remember.
Delegate Scott represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at [email protected]