Thanks to a bill that passed in the State Senate Monday in a party-line vote, nearly 11,000 Albemarle residents are a step closer to getting reassigned to a new Senate district.
SB1237 was introduced by Republican State Senator Bryce Reeves, whose 17th District includes part of Albemarle County and borders Democratic State Senator Creigh Deeds’ 25th District. Reeves said the bill is meant to correct split voting precincts in Albemarle. The county has three precincts that straddle the line dividing the 17th and the 25th: Jack Jouett, Woodbrook and Stony Point.
The ragged edges confuse voters and frustrate registrars, including Albemarle’s Jake Washburn, who along with the county electoral board has previously asked the legislature to clean up district lines when possible. Doing so can be tricky, however, because districts need to have even populations, with a deviation of no more than 2 percent.
Reeves’ bill hands his chunk of Jouett to Deeds and takes Deeds’ piece of Stony Point, uniting two of the county’s three sundered precincts. But it also swaps two unsplit precincts: The entire Charlottesville-adjacent Georgetown goes to Deeds, and Stone Robinson, which lies east of the city, goes to Reeves.
“I voted against it in full committee and I voted against it on the full floor, and if it makes it off the floor, I’d ask the governor to veto it,” said Deeds. He said the bill is unconstitutional; the legislature adjusted Virginia’s constitution in 2004 to mandate that redistricting happen only once a decade. He pointed out that it also doesn’t completely solve the problem of Albemarle’s split precincts, because it leaves Woodbrook divided.
But more than that, said Deeds, Reeves’ redrawing makes both districts more partisan: Georgetown and Reeves’ chunk of Jouett, which he’s handing off, lean strongly to the left, while Stone Robinson and the piece of Stony Point he’s taking lean to the right.
“The net effect of the bill would be to make the district I represent more Democratic and the district Bryce represents more Republican,” Deeds said. “You’ve got to wonder if there’s a political motive.”
Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, was more blunt in her take on Reeves’ intent. “It looks like a blatant partisan attempt to redraw the district lines in an election year to ensure that he’s reelected,” she said. Combined with another redistricting bill making its way through the Senate, she estimates Reeves’ bill would give him a 600 vote boost “in a district he won in 2011 by around 226 votes.”
In a statement e-mailed by an aide Monday, Reeves said the new boundaries were carefully drawn to keep both districts within the 2 percent population deviation.
“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that Senator Deeds views these practical district boundary changes as solely political,” his statement read. “Having voted for the most gerrymandered map in the history of the Virginia Senate, and having initially been elected to the General Assembly by virtue of the hyper-partisan House redistricting of 1991, it is entirely understandable that he would view all legislation related to redistricting as being solely political. It certainly has been in his case.”