As Census Data Drops, Virginia’s Sprint To Draw Maps Begins
The U.S. Census Bureau released redistricting data from the 2020 Census today, highlighting major national trends like urban growth and an increase in self-identified multiracial people. States will take a far more granular look at the data, carrying out the once a decade process of redrawing state legislative and congressional maps.
In the commonwealth, most population growth occurred in Northern, Central, and Southeast Virginia - Loudoun County alone added over 100,000 people - while counties in South Central and Southwest Virginia tended to decline.
The data drop started a 45-day countdown for the new bipartisan redistricting commission, approved by voters in 2020, to turn in legislative maps to the General Assembly. They also have to hold eight public hearings on the designs before time runs out - then they have fifteen more days to finish congressional maps.
“This is sort of what I would describe as game time for redistricting,” says Erin Corbett, of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table.
She works with various advocacy groups that make up the Virginia Counts Coalition. Those groups are working to get people educated and engaged in the mapping process.
“So they can walk into a public hearing and advocate based on what they have both personally experienced on sort of the ground level within their communities, but also to be backed up by the data,” Corbett said. She follows that public input is essential to avoid bad - or even gerrymandered - maps.
At the same time, some activists are asking questions about what might be missing.
Miranda Galindo of nonprofit Latino Justice says there are obstacles to perfect accuracy in any year: “The fear is that if the pandemic and other factors that made the undercount perhaps worse this year, if those disproportionately are harming historically disenfranchised communities.”
The Census Bureau confirmed that better data on race and ethnicity - as well as an attempt to understand who was missed - will be released in early 2022.
For now, Virginia’s new bipartisan redistricting commission is using the data to draw up new voting maps. Those maps won’t come into play for this year’s election.
The public hearings have not been scheduled yet, but must occur within the 45 day timeframe.