Virginia political experts on Wednesday published a damning analysis of the state redistricting maps passed by the General Assembly this week.
The 17-page report, authored by Christopher Newport University professor Quentin Kidd and Dustin Cable of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at University of Virginia, says that the maps make legislative districts less compact, split more cities and counties and also separate more communities of interest then current state maps.
"In short the maps presented to the governor by the General Assembly would make a bad situation worse for the coming decade," they wrote.
The report, released a day after lawmakers took a break from redistricting, fuels political pressure on Gov. Bob McDonnell to significantly rewrite the 140 districts that passed the legislature. The Republican can veto the maps, amend them or substitute in his own maps even though he can't alter the balance of power in either chamber.
Further, the report offers evidence for potential court challenges. Redistricting maps have been tangled in lawsuits over the years and political insiders have predicted that this year's redraw would face legal scrutiny.
In previous years, state lawmakers faced little credible competition or realistic alternatives that could be considered by judges, political experts and voters. This year, however, an independent, bipartisan commission appointed by McDonnell offered maps, and so did dozens of college students who entered a political mapping contest. McDonnell gave the commission no official power, but he could factor in the panel's recommendations.
According to the analysis, the maps offered up by the independent panel would make significant improvement over the maps drawn up by Senate Democrats and House Republicans.
For example, the commission maps split 72 cities and counties in making Senate districts, while the Senate Democrats' proposal would spilt 135. In the House, the commission-built maps split 153 cities and counties, while the House proposal would break up 194.
When Senate Democrats and House Republicans released proposals in early April, the plans to redraw the state's political boundaries with 2010 census data were slammed as unfair and overly partisan during statewide public hearings.
State lawmakers largely pushed ahead with their plans. House Republicans altered their plans enough to win support from a number of Democrats. Their plans passed on an 85 to 9 vote over the objections of a handful of Democrats who found their homes drawn into different districts.
There were multiple changes and versions of the Senate Democrats' plans for that chamber's 40 districts, and Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, faced tough criticism from Republicans and political observers. Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. "Tommy" Norment, R-James City, has called the plans outrageous and said they probably aren't constitutional.
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