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From the Archives: After the census: GMU political scientist Michael McDonald forecasts Virginia's 2011 redistricting

After the census: GMU political scientist Michael McDonald forecasts Virginia's 2011 redistricting
September 4, 2010 12:47 PM MST

The 2010 census was just the first stage in a process that will lead to the redesign of legislative districts all across the United States over the next two years. Districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, state legislatures, city councils, county boards of supervisors, and school boards will all be affected.

Michael McDonald political scientist GMU redistricting
Michael P. McDonald
In Virginia, the redistricting process is accelerated because it is one of only four states that hold their state legislative elections in odd-numbered years.

George Mason University political scientist Michael P. McDonald is an expert on reapportionment and redistricting. He has served as a consultant on redistricting issues, sometimes “helping jurisdictions produce redistricting plans that are in conformance with federal and state criteria,” sometimes serving as an expert witness in lawsuits on behalf of either the plaintiff or the defendant, “defending or challenging whether or not a redistricting plan is legal.”

After McDonald spoke to local election officials from across the Commonwealth at the State Board of Elections’ annual Election Uniformity Workshop, McDonald answered questions from the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner about what Virginia voters can look forward to in the coming months.

Historical First
For the first time in Virginia history, redistricting in 2011 will be done by a General Assembly in which the House of Delegates is controlled by Republicans and the state Senate is controlled by Democrats. After the 1990 census, both houses were controlled by Democrats, and after the 2000 census, both houses had Republican majorities.

“How it’s played out in other states,” McDonald explained, “is that one chamber will draw its districts, the other chamber will draw its districts, and then the two will do a logroll,” in which each chamber approves the other’s proposal. In effect, McDonald said, “you will have two different partisan gerrymanders, one for each chamber.”

Virginia differs slightly from other states, however.

“The wrinkle that we have in Virginia,” McDonald pointed out, “is that the governor can amend legislation.” As a result, “there’s a little bit of concern on the Democratic side” that “even if the House passes their version of the Senate plan” the governor might not “keep his hands off of it.”

There is some discussion, McDonald said, that “the governor may form a commission or a committee of some sort to help assist him in evaluating the redistricting plans that come out of the legislature.” Such a commission, he explained, “may play a mediating role there.”

Time Constraints
Given how fast the state legislative elections are approaching (in November 2011), there is some concern about whether the General Assembly can pass a redistricting plan in time to meet the needs of the electoral calendar.

congressional redistricting legislative districts Michael McDonald
“Plenty of other states have done it,” McDonald said. “We’ve done it in the past in Virginia.”

Can the process be completed in time?

“Presumptively, yes, the answer should be yes, that we can do it in time,” McDonald noted, also pointing out that “if it is not done in time,” federal courts will intervene.

“That’s one thing that the voters of Virginia can know to be true,” he said, “that the federal courts will step in if the state government can’t produce a redistricting plan.”

The courts, he added, “will basically draw their own map or they will accept a map that was not considered during the legislative process.”

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on September 4, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

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