RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The congressional district held by Rep. Abigail Spanberger would move from the Richmond area to Northern Virginia if the state’s Supreme Court decides to approve the draft maps prepared by two redistricting experts appointed by the court.
The proposed maps were submitted by two expert map drawers, one nominated by Democrats and the other nominated by Republicans. The experts, known as Special Masters, are chosen to help the justices redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts.
The court was put in charge of the state’s political redistricting, a once-a-decade process of redrawing electoral districts with new census data after a bipartisan commission failed to get through partisan squabbling to come to an agreement on new political maps.
Spanberger, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 7th Congressional District since 2019, narrowly held onto the swing district seat during last year’s midterms. The proposed district is drawn out of Central Virginia and into the area of Prince William County, roughly 50 miles from the current district’s boundaries.
On Wednesday, dozens of speakers shared their thoughts and concerns with the court and Special Masters Sean Trende and Bernard Grofman in the first of two virtual public hearings on the draft maps. Citizens, advocates, and local officials from across the commonwealth, including a state senator, a mayor and a school board member, spoke during the three-hour hearing.
While most focused on the possible effects the new districts could have on the areas they live in, many speakers addressed how the draft maps would impact the 7th District and urged the justices to make changes to prevent splitting the suburbs in western Chesterfield and western Henrico into different congressional districts.
Several speakers urged the court to make changes to protect communities of interest, which the special masters said they aimed to respect “to the extent possible,” with some claiming the draft maps would “effectively blow up the 7th District” and push voters into districts where they have no economic or cultural ties.
The court will accept written public comments for review until 1 p.m. on Dec. 20.
Grofman and Trende wrote in a memo accompanying the proposed maps that they believe the redrawn congressional districts would give Democrats a slight edge ahead of next year’s midterms, with six leaning towards Democrats, four leaning towards Republicans and the 2nd District as the one battleground district in Virginia.
“In a very good Republican year, Republicans could win a majority of the seats in Virginia’s delegation,” they wrote in the memo. “Generally, however, we would expect to see a 6-5 Democratic edge in Virginia’s delegation. In very good Democratic years, Democrats might perhaps achieve the same 7-4 advantage that they now enjoy from having won two highly competitive seats in 2020.”
Under the proposed maps, the new 7th Congressional District would include Prince William County, Stafford County and the City of Fredericksburg.
Members of Congress are not required to live in the districts they represent, so Rep. Spanberger could still run for re-election in the 7th if the Virginia Supreme Court approves the draft maps. But other Virginia Democrats have signaled a desire to run in the newly drawn 7th District if the court finalizes the proposed maps.
“There is no final map now, and I think it’s important we respect the redistricting process. Virginians have the opportunity to have their voices heard in the public comment period, and then the decision will rest with the judges,” Del. Elizabeth Guzman, a Democrat who represents Prince William, said in a statement to 8News. “If the current proposed map prevails, I will give serious consideration to running in the new 7th.”
If Spanberger aims to remain in the Central Virginia area and not represent a district in another region of the state, she could seek the 1st District seat or the 5th District seat. She would have to face off with one of two Republican congressmen — Rep. Rob Wittman in the 1st or Rep. Bob Good in the 5th.
Spanberger’s campaign office did not respond to 8News’ request for comment.
With the 7th District’s future uncertain, the packed GOP race to unseat Spanberger also remains in limbo. One of the seven Republicans who put their name in the hat, state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania), announced he is challenging Rep. Jennifer Wexton in the 10th District after the proposed maps were released.
The Special Masters submitted proposals for new state legislative districts as well, based off data from the 2017 attorney general election results. The drafts maps would give Democrats an advantage in the House of Delegates, where Republicans just cemented their two-seat majority for the upcoming session, and in the Virginia Senate, according to analysis from the Virginia Public Access Project.
While it’s still unclear whether these proposed maps will stick, and when the House elections will be held, some candidates have staked out districts from the draft maps.
Richmond City Councilman Michael Jones, who failed to make the June primary ballot for the 69th House District after a paperwork filing issue, tweeted he was running for the newly drawn 77th House District after the draft maps were released.
Hoping to end gerrymandering in Virginia, voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of the bipartisan redistricting commission to oversee the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing political maps.
After months of work, the commission made up of eight lawmakers and eight citizen members reached a partisan deadlock and abandoned the effort without submitting new maps to the state legislature.
The Virginia Supreme Court will have another public hearing from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 17 before the justices finalize any proposed maps. You can sign up to take part in Friday’s hearing online.