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Virginia House Democrats propose redistricting plan

August 29, 2018
David Toscano, Lamont Bagby
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Virginia House of Delegates minority leader, Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, gestures during a news conference along with Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, left, at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. The Democrats announced that they are introducing a bill that would redraw House election districts. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled their proposed fix to the state’s electoral map in light of a federal court ruling that found 11 legislative districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

A top leader for the House Republicans, who are appealing the court’s ruling, quickly criticized the plan as a “partisan power grab.”

Democratic House Minority Leader Del. David Toscano and other members of his caucus discussed the proposal at a press conference in Richmond, a day before lawmakers were to reconvene for a special session to take up the issue.

Toscano said the remedial map will meet the requirements of a June court ruling, which found lawmakers had illegally packed black voters into certain Richmond and Hampton Roads-area districts to make surrounding districts whiter and more Republican.

“First and foremost, the map we are introducing is compact, contiguous, and respects communities of interest,” he said in a statement. “We have complied with the court’s order and the U.S. Constitution to ensure that voters in the affected districts have an adequate voice in their representation.”

The ruling could eventually affect partisan control of the House. Republicans currently hold a narrow 51-49 majority after Democrats picked up 15 seats last year.

House elections are scheduled for 2019, but the judges ordered that the map be redrawn by Oct. 30.

GOP lawmakers have asked the court to stay that deadline pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

Toscano said his party’s proposal should be immediately referred to a committee for consideration when lawmakers convene Thursday and suggested Republicans are trying to drag out the process. The court’s decision came down June 26 and there has since been “no action,” he said.

“Now we’re here the day before a special session. We’ve seen no map. We’ve seen nothing from the Republicans. It’s delay, delay, delay to avoid having new districts by 2019,” he said.

The Democrats’ plan would make changes to a total of 29 districts and would also eliminate many split precincts, in which voters are divided into more than one district, Toscano said. Split precincts caused uncertainty in last year’s elections when some voters were wrongly assigned ballots.

GOP House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert said in a statement that while his party is doing a systematic review of the Democrats’ proposal, an initial look made clear it’s a “partisan power grab that would fail to pass legal muster.”

The plan drew multiple Republican delegates into the same districts and made five seats currently held by Republicans safe Democratic seats, Gilbert’s statement said.

Gilbert’s statement did not address a plan of action for Thursday.

Republicans, who control House procedures, have said in a court filing that redistricting is a “political process,” and it “remains unknown how the process will unfold.”

Additional plans may be proposed and “other efforts” such as the holding of hearings and gathering of public input may be necessary, the filing said.

If lawmakers can’t reach a consensus, the court would likely step in, as happened a few years ago when lawmakers were ordered to redraw congressional districts.

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