Virginia's Critical Redistricting Session
What will August 17th 2015 mean for partisan politics and American Muslims in Virginia?
Earlier this summer, Virginia’s courts found legislators to be in violation of the constitution by upholding district maps that have disadvantaged a section of the the Commonwealth’s African American population for almost two decades. While Republicans have sought more time to re-examine the map of the area in question, the 3rd Congressional District, Governor MacAuliffe has asked for a special session of the VA General Assembly to take place next week, August 17th 2015.
According to Federal rules, “The standard for congressional districts is quite strict, with equal population required "as nearly as is practicable." In practice, this means that states must make a good-faith effort to draw districts with exactly the same number of people in each district within the state.”  In light of Congressional District 3 issues in Virginia, where African American votes were diluted by virtue of packing too many black constituents into the district line, the US Supreme Court’s decision is that the Commonwealth must redraw district lines by September 1st 2015.
The bigger picture is a reflection not just of a national struggle by Democrats across the US, but a clear effort to directly address gerrymandering concerns under a largely Republican legislature in Virginia. In question is the extent to which the passage of legislation in favor of effectively redrawing Congressional district lines by 2020 will significantly alter Virginia’s electoral landscape by allowing its diverse and increasing minority populations potentially more accurate representation.
Governor McAuliffe’s veto of any legislative decisions in this special session will likely mean the redrawing of map lines will be sent back to the courts. It is here that critics of redistricting reform claim that the litigation process, led by Hillary Clinton’s campaign General Counsel Marc Elias, politically ties the national push for redistricting to McAuliffe’s history of strong support from Clinton. Though it will not be until 2021 before any new redistricting parameters will be enforced, a Virginia victory for Clinton in the 2016 presidential race may very well be reinforced by a substantial change in the makeup of Virginia’s House of Delegates in all General Elections going forward. This year’s upcoming November General Elections may be that last real challenge to Democrats taking over the Assembly’s lower chamber.
American Muslim votes in Virginia
VAN (Voter Activation Network) data recently compiled by Emerge USA’s Virginia team indicates large percentages of registered American Muslims residing within districts that have the potential to significantly influence elections, both General and Presidential. Not only were American Muslim votes critical to the Obama victories of 2008 and 2012, but local electoral outcomes have been substantially affected in recent years. The election of Scott Rigell to Congress in 2011, Tim Kaine to the Senate in 2012 and Senator Mark Herring as Attorney General in 2013 are prime examples of victories that were influenced by American Muslim votes.
While races reflect general support for Democrats among Muslims nationwide, Republicans in Virginia are waking up to the realities of suburban demographics despite having a long way to go. Hispanic and Asian populations are being wooed by the Right, as the campaigns of Congresswoman Barbara Comstock and Ed Gillespie for Senate in 2014 clearly show. For Republican lawmakers, redistricting in such an atmosphere can mean that either they will work harder to win American Muslim votes or risk being further alienated by district lines that deepen traditional support for Democrats and turn Virginia a distinct blue. For American Muslims, the challenge lies in the ability to consider issues over political expediency, to choose political diversity over political tribalism and to fully exercise their right and civic duty to vote. Monday August 17th will nonetheless be a date to remember in Virginia’s redistricting history.
42,539 Registered American Muslims, Congressional Districts 11, 10, 8
16,340 Registered American Muslims, Congressional Districts 10
Prince William County
9,092 Registered American Muslims, Congressional Districts 10, 11,1
5,031 Registered American Muslims, Congressional District 8
3,802 Registered American Muslims, Congressional Districts 3, 7