GERRYMANDERING is the deliberate manipulation of legislative district boundaries to advantage or benefit a particular party or group, or to cause disadvantage or harm to an opposing party or group. It distorts the electoral process, undermines democracy, and renders legislative elections a meaningless exercise. It’s a conflict of interest for the legislature to draw its own district lines.

How Does the Process Work in Virginia? (Here’s how we can fix it.)

In Virginia, state legislators redraw district lines for the U.S. Congress, the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia after every 10-year census. Under the current system, the party in power in the House and the party in power in the Senate can draw the lines to serve their own interests, not those of our communities.

Virginia is ranked as one of the most gerrymandered states in the country both on the congressional and state levels based on lack of compactness and contiguity of its districts.[1] Virginia is ranked the 5th worst in the country.[2] Throughout the Commonwealth, counties and cities are being broken in half or into multiple pieces to create heavily partisan districts.

Forty-six localities are split in the Virginia Senate district maps and 59 localities divided in the House of Delegates’ maps.[3] In 2013, 56 candidates in the House of Delegates faced no real competition in the general election, with 22 Democrats and 34 Republicans facing no major-party challenger. Of the remaining 44 races, only 19 were considered competitive to some degree. In the end, only two seats changed parties. [4] [5]

Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry may get the credit for being the first to use political maps as a tool to influence elections, but “gerrymandering” as the method has been coined, is believed to have originated in our Commonwealth much earlier. Scholars point to Gov. Patrick Henry as the first example of political redistricting in the United States. In the 1780s he attempted to fix an election by creating a district to force Federalist James Madison to face Anti-Federalist James Monroe. The practice of gerrymandering has not changed much in the past 228 years…what has changed is the technology used to draw the lines more ruthlessly and effectively, and the large amounts of money behind this subtle practice.

Below are wonderful maps provided to us by State Political Maps that show the House of Delegate, Virginia Senate, and Virginia Congressional districts.

VA_State_House_ VA_State_Senate VA_US_Congress

[1] Governing: By the Numbers, October 2012

[2] Redrawing the Map on Redistricting, An Azavea White Paper, 2012 (pdf)

[3] Virginia Public Access Project VPAP

[4] Center for Politics, University of Virginia

[5] Virginia State Board of Elections