RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia will get redistricting data from the U.S. Census Bureau just over a month before November’s elections, a nearly six-month delay that could lead to House of Delegates elections for three straight years for the first time since the early 1980s.
Census delays were expected with the coronavirus pandemic initially curbing the bureau’s in-person data collecting efforts. But the agency has pushed back the target date for when states can expect redistricting data to Sept. 30, all but assuring Virginia will vote under the same electoral maps as two years ago, despite the creation of a panel tasked with redrawing them.
“This year, everybody seems to be acknowledging we’ll run with the existing lines,” Del. Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax), one of the lawmakers on Virginia’s new redistricting commission, said in an interview Monday. “But that’s not really the question. The question is what we do after that.”
Voters in Virginia passed a constitutional amendment in November creating a bipartisan group to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts. The redistricting commission is required to submit plans for the redrawn districts to the General Assembly “no later than 45 days” after receiving data from the 2020 Census, according to the state’s Constitution.
With the data needed to create the new maps not coming until Sept. 30, Simon explained this year’s House elections would likely be under redrawn districts from electoral maps used two years ago. Districts used in 2019 were redrawn by a court-appointed expert and approved by the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Virginia after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the maps created under the GOP-led state legislature in 2011 were racially gerrymandered.
Lawmakers in the General Assembly have shared concerns of holding an election with the same maps, saying census delays could compel state courts to order a special election in 2022 to have voters choose candidates from the redrawn districts. With all 100 seats in the House of Delegates on the line every two years, the possibility could mean three straight years of House elections.
There is some precedent for such a move, with litigation over redistricting prompting the House of Delegates to hold elections in 1981, 1982 and 1983.
When a Census Bureau official made it clear in January that states would not have the data until late July, Simon recognized what happens next could depend on which party controls the legislature after the elections.
Simon echoed that sentiment again on Monday, but added a call for a House election in 2022 could come from a locality seeking more representation in the legislature after the maps are redrawn and approved.
The redistricting commission is a 16-member group made up of eight state legislators, four Democrats and four Republicans, and eight citizen members. The state delegates named to the commission include Dels. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond), Les Adams (R-Pittsylvania), Margaret Ransone (R-Westmoreland), and Simon.
Ransone and Adams did not respond to 8News’ request seeking an interview.
There are four state senators on the panel: Sens. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), George Barker (D-Fairfax) and Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg).
Voters in Virginia will select the next governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general on Nov. 2. All 100 House of Delegates seats and local offices are also up for grabs.