Newly proposed redistricting maps would create a new Virginia House district in Arlington while potentially pitting long-time Senate incumbents against each other.
Last week, the Supreme Court of Virginia unveiled draft maps for the Virginia House of Delegates, the Virginia Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. The maps were drawn up by one Democrat and one Republican appointed by the court, after a non-partisan committee failed to complete the task earlier in the year.
The maps are based on 2020 census numbers and are not final. As mandated by federal and state law, districts are redrawn every decade based on new census data.
In the proposed maps, both the borders and numbering system of all the Virginia House districts are altered. The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) has a tool that allows residents to see which House, Senate or Congressional district they’d be in if these maps were approved.
While the proposed maps have those who follow state politics considering the Commonwealth’s future political alignment, in Arlington the potential redistricting does not alter the Democratic stronghold.
But the draft maps do take into account Arlington’s recent population growth, as 15% more people live in the county now compared to a decade ago.
The maps propose an entirely new House district that essentially encompasses Arlington’s Metro corridors, including Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Virginia Square, Ballston, Crystal City and parts of Pentagon City.
Currently, those neighborhoods are either part of House District 49 (represented by Del. Alfonso Lopez), House District 48 (represented by Del. Rip Sullivan), or House District 47 (represented by Del. Patrick Hope).
None of these incumbents reside in the proposed newly-created House District 2, a VPAP analysis says, meaning there’s an empty seat that could be filled by a political newcomer.
“They redrew maps by shrinking the borders of the current districts,” said David Ramadan, professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a former Virginia House delegate for Loudoun County. “Because [the law] requires them to have a close to equal population. That’s why there’s a new district.”
The population of Arlington’s Metro corridors, purposefully, have grown tremendously in size over the last decade. In fact, a census tract within Ballston now has the highest density of population in the entire D.C. area.
Local officials are already taking notice of this potential new district in Arlington, which would likely add another Democrat to the Virginia House of Delegates.
Looks like Arlington would have an open House of Delegates district with this map—HD 2 including Ballston, Courthouse, Lyon Park, Rosslyn, and Crystal City https://t.co/sUkoK7YZkt
— Barbara Kanninen (@BarbaraKanninen) December 9, 2021
Senate maps, meanwhile, do not propose a new district, but they could pit two long-standing local Democrat incumbents against each other in the next primary election.
Janet Howell, first elected in 1991, currently represents Senate District 32, which covers Dominion Hills, East Falls Church and Westover as well as parts of Fairfax County. The new maps would see those Arlington neighborhoods moved to District 40.
A big chunk of the current Senate District 31, which includes Rosslyn, Ballston, Cherrydale, Columbia Pike, Pentagon City, Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge, will also become part of District 40. District 31 has been represented by Barbara Favola for a decade.
While the district changes may not impact the heavy Democratic majority in Arlington, there may be a statewide impact.
The maps would create other new House districts in Northern Virginia, including a new one in Prince William County, Ramadan says, which could push the House to the Democrats more often over the next decade.
“I think this strengthens the Democrats a little more and that’s because of how the population shifted,” he says.
But these gains may not hold after the 2030 census, Ramadan notes. Better broadband access and a lower cost of living in other parts of the Commonwealth, combined with more remote work options, could prompt some who live in Arlington’s denser census tracts to leave.
“With the change of how people are… telecommuting and people working from home, there may be a trend backwards,” he says. “We [could] see… the repopulation of southwest Virginia and southern parts of Virginia.”
Of course, where people live doesn’t necessarily change their political preferences, but such a trend could — in theory — slow the growth of Democratic strongholds.
All of this remains speculative, as the maps and the redistricting are not finalized, but the end of the redistricting may be in sight.
Two virtual public hearings are being held this week, with the Virginia Supreme Court tasked with approving the new maps. It’s not immediately known when the new districts will be approved, but it could happen this month.
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