Teams from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law and the College of William and Mary’s department of government won top prizes in a competition to redraw Virginia’s district lines at the Library of Virginia in Richmond on Tuesday.
Fifteen teams representing twelve Virginia universities took part in the Virginia Redistricting Competition, which tasked the contenders with drawing new district lines for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia as alternatives to district proposals currently being debated in the General Assembly.
“It was important for the students to gain experience as to the process of redistricting and the means by which people are elected, and it was important in a public sense to show people that there are many ways to construct congressional districts that don’t need the political aspects that are often involved,” government professor and department chair John McGlennon, one of the team’s faculty sponsors, said.
Redistricting is the process of redrawing electoral districts to reflect changes in population growth patterns, as identified by the decennial Census. In Virginia, this responsibility is designated to the legislature and historically has been completed by the political party in power.
According to the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, this process has increased gerrymandering, allowed political parties to increase their majorities, limited competition and caused partisan gridlock.
Using population data collected by the 2010 Census, student teams submitted maps that proposed new boundaries for Virginia’s 11 congressional districts, 100 state House districts and 40 state Senate districts. Teams produced for each body a redistricting plan with a map and a narrative explanation of their methodology.
“These students worked hard to craft a plan which met the objectives of a fair, sensible plan of representation,” McGlennon said. “They collaborated with incredible focus and on a very tight time schedule against tough competition. I helped figure out what to do with the maps, but they drew the maps, and they wrote the narrative explaining why they drew what they did. The undergraduate team won $1,500, which I think is planned as a scholarship for the students.”
The competition was judged by Dr. Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Dr. Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.
“These student groups showed that it is possible to balance many desirable features to create much better districts than the politicians manage to do on their own,” Ornstein said in a press release. “The competition, and the plans it produced, are a model for other states to follow.”
The competition had two divisions. Division 1 addressed the criteria of contiguity, equipopulation, the federal Voting Rights Act, communities of interest that are respectful of existing political subdivisions, compactness, electoral competition, and representational fairness. Division 2 addressed the same criteria, but was prohibited from taking electoral competition and representational fairness into account.
The College won first place in the State Senate Maps, Division 2, winning $1,500. The law school team won first place in the Congressional Maps, Division 2 and second place in the State Senate Maps, Division 1, winning a total of $1,750.
Delegate Bob Brink (D-48) has also officially put the College’s Senate map forward for consideration by the full House of Delegates.
“The Virginia college student teams have produced a number of attractive redistricting plans without bending to the interests of incumbent officeholders,” Mann said in a press release. “They have shown the way for the public to participate in a crucial task of our democracy heretofore dominated by insiders.”
The best maps will be considered by the Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting appointed by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.