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Redistricting in Virginia goes to special masters

November 22nd, 2021, 7:05am by Sam Wang


Despite negative news coverage of redistricting, there’s a lot of hope (see my recent Twitter thread), especially compared with a decade ago. In particular, Virginia is looking up. Although the commission deadlocked, the law now assigns the job to the Virginia state Supreme Court. The Court has appointed two Special Masters, Bernard Grofman and Sean Trende, to draw maps by December 19th. Here at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, we’ve analyzed and graded draft maps, as well as the maps that are in force now.

According to Virginia law, as well as the Court’s orders and regulations, the Special Masters will have to follow the same criteria as the Commission, namely the federal requirements of population equality and Voting Rights Act mandates, followed by state constitution and statute.

The Special Masters have a variety of options. One is to stay close to the current maps, making adjustments to deal with population shifts and to ensure compliance with the standards laid out by the Court in their November 19th order. Another is to draw new maps, either from scratch or using the Commission’s drafts.

Here at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, we have developed a panel of quantitative metrics of fairness and performance, which can be applied to a hypothetical or actual map. We have applied these standards to all of the commission’s drafts, as well as the actual maps in effect today. Our report cards – as well as the underlying scores – are available here. We summarized our assessments of the draft maps on October 4th in this open memo to the public, where we highlighted which maps were reasonable starting points, assessed Black and Hispanic populations, and flagged a northern region of the state where Asian-American representation could be improved.

On November 21 we made our standards completely transparent to the Virginia Supreme Court, in this letter. In it we described our scoring thresholds for what we consider an “A” grade. Of course, both Special Masters are fully capable of forming their own professional judgments about what is fair. But they might still be interested in our approach, which is standardized across states. Note that we failed Illinois, Texas, North Carolina, and Oregon, a bipartisan bouquet.

The Virginia Redistricting Commission produced several maps that scored highly on our fairness metrics. The following maps not only achieved high partisan fairness scores but also seem to heed calls for fair representation of minority communities. This includes the preservation of potential opportunities for Black Virginians to elect their candidates of choice as well as accounting for growing Asian American and Hispanic populations. In Northern Virginia especially, the following State Senate and House of Delegates maps could provide starting points from which to preserve those communities and create coalition districts. A complete list of our grades and minority composition metrics for the Virginia Commission’s maps can be found here.

Draft maps that may provide helpful starting points in the Court’s redistricting process:

Congressional Map B5

State Senate Map B3 , B5 (Note: Map B5 is not very competitive, but may provide a helpful starting point from which to consider minority coalition districts while trying to improve competitiveness.)

House of Delegates Maps B6, B7

Tags: Redistricting

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