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Lawmakers Get Last Crack at 2019 Redistricting Reform

Redistricting reform advocates say Virginia's 72nd House of Delegates has become a textbook illustration of gerrymandering gone wrong. Virginia Public Access Project

Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico) represents a funny looking district in western Henrico County. Some people have compared it to a horseshoe. One judge said it reminded him of a toilet bowl.

“It kind of looks like a wig sitting on top of Deborah Rodman's district,” VanValkenburg says, referring to a fellow Democrat representing the 73rd District.

For redistricting reform advocates, the district’s odd shape has made it a textbook case of gerrymandering gone wrong. VanValkenburg is the first Democrat to win the district since 1987. He says that’s because the districts were designed to protect incumbents. In 2015, every single incumbent who was up for re-election in the General Assembly won their seat; most of them didn’t even have a challenger. 

“And so you're not even having a debate about what the state should or should not be doing,” VanValkenburg says.

Republicans’ sweeping victory in 2009 gave them the power to draw today’s House maps. The Senate, which was still controlled by Democrat at the time, passed the House plan so that the lower chamber would approve their own map. Critics say both plans were designed to protect incumbents. 

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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