A panel of federal judges this week ordered Virginia to adopt new state legislative district lines that are likely to significantly aid Democratic efforts to reclaim control of the House of Delegates.
The judges on Tuesday selected a draft map drawn by Bernard Grofman, a University of California-Irvine political scientist chosen by the court as its special master last year after ruling that 11 state House districts had improperly diluted the political power of African-American voters.
The districts impacted are mostly in the Richmond exurbs and the Hampton Roads areas. Under the new lines, six districts that favored GOP presidential nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team Put partisan politics aside — The Child Tax Credit must be renewed immediately Trump remembers former 'Apprentice' contestant Meat Loaf: 'Great guy' MORE over President Obama in 2012 would have instead given Obama a majority, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).
Several Democratic-held districts in and around Richmond and Hampton Roads would shift significantly toward Republicans. But those districts are heavily Democratic — the seats that Democrats alleged unconstitutionally packed African-American voters in — and they are likely to remain in Democratic hands.
Republicans hold 51 of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates. Democrats hold 48 seats, and they are likely to win an open seat vacated by a Democrat who won a special election to the state Senate earlier this month.
All 100 seats are up for election this year.
“My impression is that the new maps create three almost certain pick-ups for Democrats in southeast Virginia, with a potential for as many as eight flips in the Democrats’ favor,” said Nick Goedert, a political scientist at Virginia Tech. “Democrats are clear favorites to take control of the House later this year, if the electorate looks anything like it did in 2017.”
Among the districts that shift most dramatically is one in Petersburg, just south of Richmond, held by House Speaker Kirk Cox (R). Cox’s district gave Romney 63 percent of the vote in 2012; under the new lines, he would find himself running in a district where Obama beat Romney by a 53-percent-to-47-percent margin.
Cox said in a series of tweets Wednesday that Republicans in the state legislature would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The Eastern District Court selected a series of legally indefensible redistricting modules that attempts to give Democrats an advantage at every turn. The modules selected by the Court target senior Republicans, myself included, without a substantive basis in the law,” he wrote. “Regardless of what the electoral map looks like in 2019, Republicans are prepared to defend and rebuild our majority in the House.”
In a statement, Virginia House Democratic leader Eileen Filler-Corn and caucus chair Charniele Herring (D) said the ruling was the obvious outcome of a stalemate between legislative Republicans and Gov. Ralph Northam (D). The two sides did not agree on the contours of new maps within the court’s allotted time frame.
“A consequence of undoing gerrymandered maps is that the partisan makeup of some districts may change, but we cannot place partisan politics above the U.S. Constitution,” the Democrats said. “We are pleased that Virginians will have constitutional districts for the November elections.”
Even before this week's court ruling, Democrats thought they had a chance to win back the House of Delegates for the first time since 2000. The party made big gains in the 2017 legislative elections, coming within a coin toss in a tied race of winning control of the lower chamber.
The district that ended in a tie-breaker, won by Delegate David Yancey (R), is also on the list of likely flips. Under its new boundaries, the district would shift toward Democrats by almost 14 points, according to the VPAP data.