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Off-Year Elections Mean Redistricting Head Start for Four States

With an eye toward state House elections later this year, local officials are now consumed with the first step, which requires an independent commission to redraw state legislative districts. Once completed (the state constitution sets an April 3 deadline), a 12-member bipartisan commission balanced with six Republicans and six Democrats will be organized by early September to confront the Congressional districts.

The first step has little bearing on the second, but local officials expect similar themes to emerge in both. For example, a battle over “packing” and “cracking” is already well under way.

ew Jersey Republicans have started to shape alliances with local Hispanic groups in an effort to “pack” large numbers of Hispanic voters into certain legislative districts. The outcome, of course, leaves other districts far less diverse and more likely to vote for Republicans.

Many Democrats would prefer to spread minority voters throughout multiple districts to maximize their overall influence on the electoral map, known as “cracking.”

The debate is under way only in the context of New Jersey’s state legislative districts, but it’s fair to assume the conflict will spill into the fight over Congressional districts.

With all the attention on the state districts, local participants suggest it’s far too early to speculate which Member of Congress might be the big loser as New Jersey prepares to drop a seat.

It’s no secret that Democrats would like to go after freshman Rep. Jon Runyan (R) in the 3rd district, while Republicans could target Rep. Steven Rothman (D) in the 9th district. But look for both sides to move to the middle in an effort to win the favor of the Supreme Court-appointed tiebreaker.

A final Congressional redistricting plan must be approved by Jan. 17, 2012.

Virginia

The Virginia General Assembly next month will tackle redrawing Congressional and legislative district lines, getting an early start on redistricting because the Old Dominion holds elections this fall.

Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell ultimately controls the process, though the plans will be drawn in divided assembly chambers. The state Senate is narrowly controlled by Democrats, and the GOP is in charge of the state House.

New population estimates mean Virginia won’t lose or gain any Congressional seats, and the quietly whispered scuttlebutt is that the state’s Members — eight Republicans and three Democrats — have already agreed to keep the status quo.

That puts the attention on state legislative lines, where shifts could help secure Democratic power in the state Senate. It’s been a closely divided chamber for many years, but the Democrats were able to win control in 2007 after several successful statewide elections for the party. (The split is 22-18. Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling can break tie votes as Senate president.)

Democrats are most concerned about keeping the state Senate seats that they won in 2007 in Northern Virginia and Tidewater. They aim to draw lines that shore up Democratic voters and that present new opportunities to win GOP seats in the growing Northern Virginia exurbs: Loudoun, Fauquier and Prince William counties. President Barack Obama won those voters in 2008, and Democrats won them in the 2001 and 2005 gubernatorial races.

“We’re prepared to fight,” a Democratic source told Roll Call.

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