This Year's Governor's Race Could Have Lasting Impacts on Virginia Politics

Aug 10, 2017

Gubernatorial candidates Democrat Ralph Northam (left) and Republican Ed Gillespie (right). The winner of this year's election could have significant influence on redistricting efforts.
Credit Steve Helber / AP

This year’s election may end up being more important than most because the next governor will oversee a new round of political maps that will shape Virginia politics for the next decade. 

In the last decade, people have been moving to urban areas that form a crescent shape across Virginia — stretching from Hampton Roads through Richmond and Fredericksburg into Northern Virginia. Those are areas that vote for Democrats. And Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says the next round of redistricting is likely to harm Republicans.

“The lines in Virginia that are going to have to be redrawn after the 2020 Census are going to be very favorable to the Democrats. The areas that are most Republican, Southside and Southwest Virginia, are having the slowest gains and in some cases even population declines.”

But then there’s all that high-tech wizardry that mapmakers can use to pack Democrats into a handful of districts to maximize Republican voters in other districts. That’s usually how parties in the majority draw maps to benefit themselves. But Republican House Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo says it doesn’t always turn out that way.

“The Democrats drew the Senate map, and Republicans took over under a Democratic map. So I think people overplay the question about redistricting.”

When Democrats were in control of the House of Delegates, they resisted calls for a nonpartisan redistricting commission. Now Republicans control the House, and they’re rejecting that idea. That means that whoever is elected the next governor will have a strong influence over how those lines are drawn and where the centers of power are for the next decade.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association