Frequently Asked Questions

What is redistricting?

Redistricting is the once-a-decade process when boundaries of legislative districts are redrawn to account for population shifts identified in the national Census. Each district must have roughly the same number of people. This means fast-growing areas of Virginia will gain seats (and the related political clout) while areas with slower-growth will lose representation.

Who draws the lines?

Traditionally, the General Assembly drew the maps, which were subject to the Governor's power to amend or veto. In November 2020, Virginia voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that shifts the authority to a 16-member commission consisting of eight citizens and eight legislators.

Will the Commission be independent?

Some states have set up redistricting commissions to insulate the process from state legislators, who have a self-interest in the outcome. That is not the case in Virginia. The voter-approved plan allows state legislators to retain considerable leverage in the process. This includes:

  • Legislators make up half of the 16-member commission
  • Legislators pick four of the five retired circuit court judges who select the citizen members
  • Legislative leaders must endorse any citizen who wishes to be considered for the Commission.

Two citizens serve as co-chairs of the Commission.

Will the Commission take the politics out of redistricting?

No. What the commission will do is make sure redistricting is no longer a “winner take all” exercise that allows the political party in power to draw maps designed to extend control for the next decade. Enshrined in the constitutional amendment is a 50-50 party split, with seats for eight Republican members and eight Democratic members on the commission. The rules now force the two parties to work together.

The Commission will consist of:

  • Four Republican state legislators
  • Four Democratic state legislators
  • Four citizens endorsed by Republican legislative leaders
  • Four citizens endorsed by Democratic legislative leaders

What criteria will the Commission use to draw districts?

The General Assembly passed legislation that spells out nine standards and criteria for the commission to follow when crafting the 100 House of Delegates, 40 State Senate and 11 congressional districts. Among the criteria are requirements set in the state constitution (districts must be contiguous, compact and contain equal representation) and recognition of federal voting rights laws and judicial rulings (which protect the ability of racial minorities to elect a member of their choice).

In August 2021, the Redistricting Commission voted to prioritize the criteria in the following way.

How will the Commission reach an agreement?

A "super-majority" is required to approve a map. For instance, to submit a proposed map for the State Senate, a plan must receive affirmation from at least six of eight legislative members, including three of four from the Senate. Support is also needed from six of eight citizen members.

What is the General Assembly's role?

Once approved by the Commission, a map goes to the General Assembly for consideration. Legislators cannot amend the map – they only vote aye or nay. Approval requires a simple majority in each chamber. (If a map fails, the Commission has the opportunity to craft a second map for the General Assembly's consideration.)

What if the Commission cannot produce a map or the General Assembly does not approve a Commission map?

If the General Assembly does not approve a map, then the responsibility would fall to the Supreme Court of Virginia. The Court must hire two experts – one selected by Republicans, another by Democrats – to draw a map for the justices to consider.

Does the Governor have a say?

No. The voter-approved plan leaves no role for the executive branch.

How long will the process take?

Anywhere from two to five months. It all depends on how quickly the Commission can draw maps and if the General Assembly finds them acceptable. The clock starts ticking as soon as the Commission receives updated population data. When that happens, the Commission has 45 days to approve a map of both state House and Senate districts. (It has another 15 days to produce a congressional map). The General Assembly must vote within 15 days. A second map could take nearly another month. If the General Assembly can't agree, the Supreme Court of Virginia gets involved.

Will there be any opportunity for citizens and groups to comment on the Commission's work?

All Commission meetings shall be open to the public. The constitutional amendment also requires the Commission to hold at least three public hearings in different parts of the state before proposing maps and before voting on any redistricting plans.

Will the commission accept maps drawn by citizens and interested groups?

Yes, but it’s not clear how the Commission will display or process this information.

Will House of Delegates elections this November be held in the new districts?

No. Due to delays related to COVID-19, the Census data is late. The 2021 House elections will take place in existing districts, which were drawn in 2011 and amended in 2019.

Will the Commission's maps result in more competitive elections?

Fostering competitive elections is NOT among the criteria the Commission may consider. Some parts of Virginia are so lopsidedly red or blue, it would be impossible to draw competitive districts. One factor that may work against competitive districts is the Commission's charge to create maps that reflect the statewide partisan lean. This suggests an approach that is likely to favor reliable outcomes, not highly competitive races with unpredictable results.

One complaint with past maps is that cities and counties get carved up into different districts. Will the Commission produce maps that are more likely to respect city and county boundaries?

On August 17th the commission voted to consider locality boundaries within their criteria for communities of interest when drawing new maps. The language adopted states "existing political subdivisions should be preserved to the extent possible by avoiding unnecessary divisions of those subdivisions."