Virginia is projected to get a 12th U.S. House seat after the 2020 U.S. census, according to demographers at the University of North Carolina, which portends continued upheaval over the state’s district boundaries.
A 12th congressional seat also would raise Virginia’s number of electoral votes to 14, further fueling this swing state’s importance in presidential elections. That would be Virginia’s largest number of electoral votes since it had 15 in the 1860 presidential election.
The prospect of a 12th congressional seat “would put great emphasis on the gubernatorial election of 2017 and on the (state) Senate elections of 2019,” said Bob Holsworth, a former political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and longtime observer of state politics.
That is because the next governor will preside over a new round of redistricting in 2021 as state legislators craft a congressional map to accommodate population shifts reflected in the 2020 census.
Virginia Republicans have not won a statewide race since 2009, but they have an 8-3 majority in the state’s congressional delegation largely because the GOP controlled redistricting after the 2000 census and the 2010 census, Holsworth said.
In 2009, he said, Republican Bob McDonnell “won the governor’s race in the one year it mattered for redistricting.”
The reapportionment after the 2020 census “will shift political power South and West,” according to Carolina Demography, part of the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Virginia, North Carolina and Florida are projected to gain one seat apiece. North Carolina would rise from 13 to 14 seats, and Florida from 27 to 28. Texas is projected to add two seats, jumping from 36 to 38.
West Virginia would lose a U.S. House seat, dropping from three to two.
Citing “continued population shifts from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West,” the demographers project that those regions will account for nearly all of the states that are likely to lose a seat after the 2020 census.
Illinois is seen dropping from 18 to 17; Michigan, from 14 to 13; Minnesota, from eight to seven; Ohio, from 16 to 15; New York, from 27 to 26; Pennsylvania, from 18 to 17; and Rhode Island, from two to one.
A 12th U.S. House seat would give Virginia its largest congressional delegation since the 1850s, when the state had 13 representatives and it still included the territory now known as West Virginia, said Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
The current case
A three-judge panel is in the process of redrawing Virginia’s congressional map after twice ruling that Virginia legislators in 2012 packed too many additional African-Americans into the majority-black 3rd Congressional District, diluting their influence in surrounding districts.
An expert, called a “special master” in court documents, has recommended to the judges two alternatives to fix the constitutional flaws with the 3rd District.
Under both scenarios, African-Americans would have an opportunity to elect representatives of their choice in the 3rd District, represented by Democrat Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, and in the 4th District, represented by Republican J. Randy Forbes.
The recommendations by Bernard Grofman of the University of California-Irvine would confine Scott’s district to Hampton Roads. They would transform Forbes’ district, adding the cities of Richmond and Petersburg, to make it a “minority opportunity” district.
But the expert’s recommendations might not matter. The U.S. Supreme Court plans to take up congressional Republicans’ appeal of the three judges’ decision.
Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation, who now hold eight of the state’s 11 seats, are asking the three-judge panel not to take action on a new Virginia congressional map until the U.S. Supreme Court rules next year.
Last week, interested parties in the case filed their responses to Grofman’s proposals.
Lawyers for the original defendants, members of the state Board of Elections, said they have no objections to the expert’s proposals.
Lawyers for congressional Republicans — who asked to intervene in the case in 2013 and were added as defendants — said the judges may not use either of Grofman’s proposals “because both plans stray far afield of any remedial mandate in this case.”
The Republicans’ lawyers termed “egregious” Grofman’s proposal to redraw the 4th District in order to fix the 3rd.
“The result is predictable,” lawyers for the GOP representatives write. “The special master’s proposals replace the 8-3 partisan split with a 7-4 partisan split” by turning Forbes’ 4th District into an “overwhelmingly Democratic district.”
Lawyers for Gov. Terry McAuliffe stated his “general support” for Grofman’s recommendations but said he believes the map he submitted — calling for a more comprehensive redrawing of the state’s districts — would better fix the “spillover effects” of the 3rd’s constitutional flaws.
Northern Va. surge
Whatever happens in the current case, adding a 12th U.S. House seat after 2020 likely would transform the map again. An additional district almost certainly would be placed somewhere in Northern Virginia to accommodate the region’s surging population growth.
Loudoun County’s population jumped by 16.2 percent between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2014, from 312,316 to 363,050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In Prince William County, the population climbed 11 percent in that span, from 401,972 to 446,094.
Population also increased by 9.3 percent in Arlington County and 8.6 percent in Stafford County in that span, outpacing the growth in metropolitan Richmond and in Hampton Roads.
Adding a new Northern Virginia congressional district could have ripple effects on existing districts, perhaps making them more compact.
Of course, that depends on who’s drawing the lines in 2021.
The one sure thing is that an additional electoral vote would further cement Virginia’s status as a critical presidential swing state.
“We’re going up, while the great swing state of Ohio is moving down, as it consistently has done in recent decades,” said Sabato, adding however that “Ohio still has more overall clout.”
No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. No Republican has been elected president without winning Virginia since Calvin Coolidge did so in 1924.
Holsworth said that, for the first 30 years he lived in Virginia, you would not know a presidential campaign was taking place.
“Now,” he said, “we’re presidential central.”