Your Turn — Elections and redistricting
Published 12:45 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Over the course of the last two years, much has been reported about how political districts will look after the 2020 Census. We still do not know all that we should two years later.
Part of the delay was that the census numbers were slow to compile because census workers were hampered going to homes knowing that COVID was rampant. This extended the data collection and processing that data while other employees did not want to go to the office.
Meanwhile, Virginia finally decided that we needed an impartial method of redistricting. That process almost came to a screeching halt when the Democrats gained a majority in the House of Delegates. Democrats had supported the process in making it less political when they were in the minority. Most reversed that position in the majority. However, enough understood that was wrong and the plan moved forward.
That plan was to have a committee composed of an equal number from each party to draw the new lines. Should that committee be unsuccessful, which it was, the state Supreme Court would decide the lines. That is what happened. The case should then be closed. However, it is not. Now, some want to fight it out in the courts.
ISSUES BEFORE THE COURT
Currently, there are two cases that are before the courts. One case is a federal case that challenges how the Senate lines were drawn. Their argument deals with the districts that were designed to be minority majority districts. Their argument is that the lines should have been drawn to protect two senior senators who were drawn into the same district while another district was drawn with no incumbent right beside it.
The argument against this reasoning is that, of the seven senators with the most seniority from both parties, all were drawn into districts with another senator. This occurred because the justices refused to consider where sitting senators resided.
The second case was filed to force another House of Delegates election this year. Their argument is because the elections last fall were held in the districts created 10 years ago. The old district lines had to be followed because the redistricting process was not completed in time. This case has now been withdrawn.
MORE COMPACT DISTRICTS
When drawing new district lines, one can draw them many different ways. One factor was that counties and towns should not be needlessly split unless necessary. However, because each district must have equal population, there will always be some jurisdictions divided. Additionally, to meet federal standards, minority districts must be drawn when possible.
Overall, the new General Assembly districts are more compact. If I have any criticism of the new districts, it would be this: Should the courts have ignored where incumbents live? Over half of the sitting members of the House and Senate currently live in districts with others. Without giving either party any advantage, a few lines could have been adjusted to avoid a massive turnover of experience in the next election. Experience is valuable.
The seven senators with the most seniority are combined in districts with other incumbents. As the eighth most senior (not oldest, eight are older) I was fortunate to not be combined with another. I am disappointed to lose friends and constituents in Brunswick, Campbell, Dinwiddie and Prince George, but I can still represent their values in Richmond.
The new district is not new to me. In the past, I have represented Prince Edward and all of Halifax. Gaining those back as well as the balance of Danville and Pittsylvania results with a district with only 8% new voters. I look forward to being able to represent them.
I encourage everyone to learn more about the study that followed the movement of cellphone users in the weeks leading up to the 2020 election. By following those who frequently were picking up ballots at various nonprofit organization locations, the study was able to track over 2,000 individuals as they moved from one unsecured drop box to the next. Each was dropping a few ballots at each drop box, moving from one to the next. As we move forward, if we use these boxes in the future, we must have better knowledge as to the legitimacy of these ballots.
FRANK RUFF JR. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at Sen. Ruff@verizon.net, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.