Sunday, January 9, 2011

Political Stakes Are High in Virginia's Redistricting Process

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ETHNIC COMMUNITIES IN VIRGINIA HOST REDISTRICTING SEMINAR IN FAIRFAX



The process is likely to be partisan, panelists say at a forum in Fairfax County on Friday.

By Mary C. Stachyra | Email the author | January 8, 2011
http://centreville.patch.com/articles/political-stakes-are-high-in-virginias-redistricting-process?ncid=M255

Virginia's redistricting process will kick off soon, and once it does, things will go at "lightning speed," state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd district) said at a redistricting forum in Fairfax County yesterday.

About 35 people showed up to the forum at the county Government Center hosted by several nonprofit groups yesterday. The purpose of the forum was to inform the public about the redistricting process that will affect people throughout the state this year. Representatives from the Census Bureau, Fairfax County and Howell were among those who gave presentations and answered questions from the audience.

Districts will change at the county level, in the state senate and house, as well as Congressional districts. All districts must have the same amount of people, but that makes the process a bit complicated.

The government has to take into account that "it's about community symetrics, not just geography," Michael Long, a deputy Fairfax County attorney said.

That makes it unlikely that the process will be nonpartisan, as many Northern Virginia residents have asked.

Many people have said, "'please, please, take politics out of the redistricting process,'" said David Poole of the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit that promotes transparency in government. "That sounds like a great idea but it's harder to do then it sounds."

He said that even if politics are taken out of the process, actions may have political consequences. "You can certainly ask people in southwest Virginia. It’s going to be very painful [for them] to lose representation."

A plan for redistricting also has to be agreed upon and approved by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Governor's office, and by the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

The timeline will be crucial to the process. Near the end of February, the state will receive Census data, and the General Assembly will reconvene in March.

The process for redistricting takes longer in Virginia than in many other areas because federal law requires that the state first submit its plan to the Department of Justice's civil rights division for approval. While some, such as state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, have taken issue with this requirement, saying that in today's day and age racism is not as much of a problem, Howell said that she supported the mandatory oversight.

"Virginia has a history that is in many ways shameful, and I am relieved that there will be a review," Howell said. As head of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, she will play a key role in formulating the state's plan.

However, the DOJ's review may take up to 61 days, which means that everyone involved in the redistricting process will have to hustle. Politicians, for example, will not know exactly where to run for office until the DOJ approves the state's plan. That isn't the most convenient timeline, with primary elections taking place near the beginning of September. The DOJ is also free to reject the state's plan.

"Every step of the way there are pitfalls and we don't know what they will be," said Howell.




VVA - REDISTRICTING SEMINAR AND VIETNAMESE AMERICAN FORUM AT FAIRFAX COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER ON UANUARY 7, 2011 - FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: DR.QUAN X DINH - VVA ADVISER, MR. NGUYEN QUOC KHAI - VIETNAM REVIEW AND VN2100, ATTORNEY NGUYEN QUOC DUNG, DR. LE DUY CAN - FEDERATION OF VIETNAMESE CANADIANS, GENIE NGUYEN - FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF VVA, VEL HERNANDEZ - VVA ADVOCACY CHAIR 2009 - 2010, HUNG DAO, VVA MEMBER.


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