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Redrawing the map
SoVaNow.com / January 24, 2013After being split evenly into two state Senate districts in 2011, Halifax County could see the lines on the election map change yet again — beginning in 2015.
Halifax is among the counties that are dramatically affected by a Republican rewrite of Senate districts that passed the evenly-divided Senate on Monday by a 20-19 vote. Democrats, who were unable to muster 20 votes to stop the plan because one of its members was off in Washington to attend the presidential inauguration, were outraged.
“Secretive and underhanded” is how state Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) described Monday’s surprise passage of the redrawn Senate map. District lines normally are mapped in the year after the census; the Republican proposal, which must pass the House of Delegates and gain Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature, would supplant the 2011 Senate districts.
Halifax County, split into two in 2011, would continue to be divided under the new Senate map. However, whereas the existing district map splits the county down the middle in eastern and western halves, the new GOP proposal would slice off the northern part of Halifax from its southern tier.
That southern tier — which includes Halifax, Virgilina and most of South Boston — would become part of a new minority-majority district stretching from Danville to Petersburg to Sussex. The new district has no current representative in the Senate.
Swatches of northern and eastern Halifax — including the Nathalie, Scottsburg, Clover and the Dan River precinct of South Boston — would remain in the 15th Senate District, represented by GOP Senator Frank Ruff of Clarksville.
As matters now stand, Halifax County’s eastern half is part of the 15th District represented by Ruff. The western half falls into the 20th District, represented by Senator Bill Stanley, a Franklin County Republican. In the new configuration, Stanley would no longer have Halifax as part of his district.
Passage of the Senate plan, during a non-reapportionment year, drew withering criticism from Democrats who were taken by surprise by the move. Party leaders have vowed to challenge the remapping as unconstitutional and are urging Gov. McDonnell to veto it.
McDonnell has signaled his discomfort with the plan, with a spokesman describing the governor as “very surprised” by Monday’s vote in the Senate. “I certainly don’t think that’s a good way to do business,” McDonnell told reporters in Richmond on Tuesday, although he has not said whether he will use the veto.
Senate Republicans defended the proposal by noting it would increase the chances of an African-American being elected to the State Senate from the new minority-majorit 25th District. Such an outcome would be in keeping with the intent of the Voting Rights Act, said Powhatan Republican John Watkins, who introduced the map in the Senate.
Democrats countered that Republicans were being disingenious, failing to note that the new map would dilute the Democratic vote in a number of districts around the state.
Democratic senators also called the sudden move unconstitutional, and vowed to challenge it in court. If signed by McDonnell, the changes would take effect with the 2015 State Senate elections.
In addition to creating a new Southside-based seat, the map puts Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County and Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County into the same Senate districts.
Ruff’s 15th District would keep Charlotte and Lunenburg counties, but it would lose the eastern part of Mecklenburg County, all of Nottoway County and the parts of Brunswick, Campbell, Dinwiddie, and Prince George counties that he currently represents. Ruff would pick up all of Henry County, the City of Martinsville and part of Prince Edward County.
Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said through a spokesperson that he did not support the GOP plan, and is worried about the consequences.
This “is not something that he supported. He fears that this action could set a dangerous precedent for future redistricting actions, and he is concerned that it could create a hyper-partisan atmosphere that could make it very difficult for us to address other important priorities,” said a Bolling spokesperson.
Even if the bill makes it to through the legislative process, it has several hurdles to overcome. Changes to Virginia’s district boundaries must be approved by a federal judge or the Justice Department under the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The state must prove that the purpose of the change will not have the effect of discriminating based on race or color.
Ruff, who voted for the plan, was unavailable for comment this week.
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