McDonnell vetoes Virginia state redistricting plan

Apr 18 2011

By Tyler Millhouse

RICHMOND, Virginia: On Friday, Governor Bob McDonnell (R) vetoed the legislative redistricting plan sent to his desk by the legislature.

Along with the veto, McDonnell included a letter to state lawmakers detailing his reservations about the proposed maps. Although he called for the State House to “pursue opportunities that strengthen its plan,” the brunt of the Governor’s criticism was leveled at the senate map.[1]

McDonnell expounded on this criticism by outlining three key criticisms of the senate plan. First, he argues that the plan represents an unacceptable increase in the number of divided communities. While the house plan involves only a 4 percent increase in divided communities according to McDonnell, the senate plan involves an increase of 25 percent. Second, he questions the 2 percent population deviation limit adopted by the State Senate (the State House adopted a 1 percent standard). Although he acknowledges that higher standards have been adopted in the past, McDonnell argues that the present deviations serve no “recognized principle of redistricting.” Finally, the Governor argues that senate plan represents “partisan gerrymandering.” He contends that the bi-partisan support received by the house plan signals a fairer approach to redistricting while the strict party line vote in the senate reveals the plan’s partisan bent.[1]

However, Governor McDonnell’s veto has not been without criticism. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D) contends that the veto was politically motivated. Saslaw said that he and other Democrats will not “negotiate ourselves into the minority” and will pass the same plan again. Saslaw has promised that no further plan will be passed. Thus, if the Governor rejects the plan a second time, the plan could end in stalemate and court intervention would be the result.[2] In addition, the Governor’s veto has complicated an agreement between chamber leadership which provided that each chamber would craft its own map.[3]

Doug Smith, chairman of the Virginia Redistricting Coalition has also criticized aspects of the veto. He contends that while the veto was a step in the right direction, McDonnell’s criticisms fail to address the “significant questions” about the house plan. Quentin Kidd, director of the the Wason Center for Public Policy, echoed these concerns. While he corroborated the Governor’s claim that the house plans splits fewer additional communities, he contends that both plans still exacerbate the existing problem.[4][2]

Although lawmakers had planned to return on April 25, they have decided to reconvene today to consider modifications to the bill. With primary elections scheduled for August 23, 2011 and a mandatory Department of Justice review, Virginia legislators are on a short timeline to amend the maps and complete the process.[2] Otherwise, the 2011 elections may take on a whole different appearance to voters.