RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Even though members of Virginia’s new redistricting commission are expecting census population data nearly seven weeks sooner than previously anticipated, candidates will be running under the current political maps during the November elections.
States were informed in early March that census data would be delivered on Sept. 30, a nearly six-month delay from when the U.S. Census Bureau was originally planning to share the data. Now, the commonwealth is anticipating population data by “the second week of August,” according to a proposed timeline from the redistricting commission.
The commission held a meeting Tuesday to go over the timeline, hear remarks from the public and go over training on the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
After receiving the data from the bureau, the redistricting commission has up to 45 days to submit redrawn Senate and House of Delegates district maps to the General Assembly. This new timetable could require state lawmakers to vote on the new maps in October.
Virginians will vote for governor, attorney general and lieutenant governor on Nov. 2, but candidates for the House of Delegates will also be on the ballot. This could give state delegates and senators in the General Assembly an opportunity to approve or reject legislative maps that will be used for the next decade before November.
Christopher Piper, the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections, told 8News on Wednesday the state will administer “elections according to the district lines in law.”
Census delays were expected with the coronavirus pandemic initially curbing the bureau’s in-person data collecting efforts. Virginia and New Jersey have statewide elections this year, but voters in New Jersey approved a constitutional amendment to use its current legislative maps in 2021.
In Virginia, no such move was made but the delay of population and redistricting data ensures the commonwealth will use the current legislative districts.
“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 in early March. “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. 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.