VA – A foreigner’s (first) attempt at a “good governance” redistricting map for Virginia

Dear all,

This is the first time I've tried using Dave's App and making a redistricting map. I'm hoping you could tell me what things I've done wrong. (For one, I've kept the population of each district very close to the target population, 3,000 off at most, because I didn't know just how close you have to keep it. Could I have been more flexible?)

This is the map, but please do read on:


First off, I had an idea with this map. Most of the redistricting maps here are drawn, with great expertise, to either create the most realistically (or unrealistically) Democratic-friendly map; or, in a know-your-enemy / worst-case-scenario kind of way, the most GOP-friendly map; or the map that best fits the current political realities of the state, trying to guess what the real map will end up being.

Since I have nowhere near enough expertise to weigh in, I've just been observing, with some awe. But, as a foreigner, I still have trouble getting over my initial incredulity at the whole American practice of gerrymandering in the first place. The kind of gerrymandering that yields these sometimes mindbogglingly contorted looking districts, tracing unlikely looking paths from, say, the suburbs of one city to those of another halfway across the state, often seemingly without regard to keeping communities together. It's one of the oddest and unhealthy looking aspects of the US political system, for an outsider.

I'm from a country where we don't have any districts at all (it's all PR), and both in my adopted home country and the big European countries I know best (Germany, the UK), nothing like this kind of gerrymandering seems to exist. And often when I see the draft maps here, I can't help fantasizing about what a redistricting map purely based on good governance would look like. (I'm really curious what the new CA and FL maps will look like!)

Continued beneath the fold … 

That said, among the many things I have learned about on SSP is the VRA, and I approve. I don't like the 60+% black/hispanic vote sinks that segregate the minority altogether and allow the VRA district incumbent practically guaranteed re-election. But I have totally embraced the need for districts in which minority group candidates are favoured, so minority groups are represented more proportionally in Congress. It's history's bill: it would be great if a black candidate stood as good a chance to be elected anywhere, but the reality is that in too many parts of the country, black/hispanic candidates will only be elected in black/hispanic-majority districts.

I wanted to draw my ideal "good governance" map for a state, the way it would look if there were no bothersome laws, legislative majorities or incumbencies to take account of.

I drew up these criteria:

  1. The number of districts that lean one way or another politically should be roughly proportionate to the parties' general share of the vote. (E.g.: don't stack all the voters of one party into two districts so the other party can easily win in five, when the two parties get about equal amounts of votes altogether).
  2. There should be a number of districts where a minority group candidate would be favoured roughly proportional to the group's share of the overall voting age population. However, districts in which a minority group makes up a small majority (<55%) or a mere plurality, and "coalition" districts in which minorities together outnumber whites should be preferred over segregating individual minorities in 60%+ vote sink districts.
  3. There should be as many competitive districts as possible, both to avoid safe incumbents coasting to victory without having to worry about accountability; and to keep the number of those whose vote doesn't "count" because their party is irrevocably in opposition to a minimum.
  4. Districts should be compact and keep communities of interest together.
  5. While uniting communities of interest is good, it is not beneficial for public policy if the residents of cities and surrounding suburbs are pitted against each other. (A story that struck me was the fight, at a state level I imagine, over public transport in Atlanta, in which the residents of the suburbs managed to block the extension of the city's public transport system because they feared that it would just bring more blacks into their neighbourhoods.) The map should draw cities and surrounding suburbs into common districts where possible.

As you will recognize, but I didn't quite realize beforehand, some of these points make some of the others impossible. Applying point 2 in particular throws a spanner in the works when it comes to points 4 and 5. Creating that many minority-majority districts means contorted shapes, and splitting off black or hispanic city neighbourhoods. Since minority voters tend to vote Democratic, creating more minority districts also means creating more safe Democratic districts, so it's a problem with point 3 too.

Virginia turns out to neatly illustrate all this. My other problem is that I know little about Virginia, so it's hard for me to guess where communities of interest lie exactly in any case. (Any feedback much appreciated.)

Virginia redistricting - data table

(All these data from within Dave's app. I noticed that if you download the data on race by congressional district (18+ population, hispanic and non-hispanic by race) from the census site, there's slight variations, though never more than 1% up or down.

Here's maps with some more detail:

Redistricting map NoVa

Redistricting map Richmond 

Redistricting map Hampton Roads 

How does this stack up with my criteria?

  1. Fulfilled: My redistricting map creates six Republican districts, four Democratic districts, and one Democratic-leaning district.
  2. Fulfilled: The map creates two districts in which a minority group has a plurality (blacks in VA-3 and VA-4) and a third district in which the minority groups together outnumber non-hispanic whites (VA-11). (I tried to group together disproportionally hispanic towns and neighbourhoods in VA-11, so there’s at least one district where they make up as much as 23% of the VAP – as close to having a district of their own as possible.) That's three minority-favoured districts compared to one now. Pitfall: while non-hispanic whites make up no more than 45% of each of these districts' VAP, they are 43%-45% in each, meaning that disparate turnout rates could also end you up with no minority Congressmen at all. Unlikely in an Obama year, but a concern otherwise.
  3. Failed: My redistricting map actually makes most districts less competitive. This is due to applying point 2. In order to create two more minority-favoured districts, I had to take black votes out of largely white districts, shoring up Republican majorities there. I also took some from the existing minority-majority VA-03, a Democratic vote sink – but that means that instead of having one D+38 district in the south, I ended up with two, still safe D+17-23 districts. Same in the north – by taking black and hispanic precincts from VA-8, I reduced that Democratic vote sink from D+32 to a still safe D+19, while creating an additional safe Democratic seat in VA-11 (D+18). All in all, I went from four arguably toss-up seats (VA-2, VA-4, VA-5 and VA-10) to one (VA-10).
  4. Partial: In the Northeast and the Southeast, districts are pretty contorted looking because of heeding point 2 (though I did manage to cut VA-03 short of stretching all the way up into Richmond neighbourhoods). Elsewhere, some districts are reasonable compact (VA-05 and VA-09, as well as VA-10 up north), but VA-1 stretches a long way across the state… How could this be done better, and do these districts unwittingly split any communities of interest?
  5. Partial: Creating three minority-favoured districts meant splitting a number of cities, in particular Richmond, but also Norfolk, Hopewell, Danville and Franklin – plus the agglomeration in NoVa.

Here's maps of each individual district:


Redistricting map: VA-01


Redistricting map VA-02


VA-03 redistricted 

VA-04 (or as I like to call it, the dragonboat

VA-04 redistricted 


VA-05 redistricted 


VA-06 redistricted

VA-07 (the crab, or is it a lobster?)

 VA-07 redistricted


 VA-08 redistricted


 VA-09 redistricted


 VA-10 redistricted


VA-11 redistricted

2010 Virginia & Majority-Minority Districts

This is just a quick diary playing around the new version of Dave’s App and the new 2010 Census data for Virginia.

My first interest in playing with the new Census data was to figure out if two African-American-majority districts are possible, as most recent estimates have indicated. They are:

Here are the stats for those districts:

As you can see, it was just possible to make those two districts majority African American.

Here are close-ups of those two districts:

I found NoVA interesting too. In my ACS version of this map, which I don’t think I ever posted, VA-08 and VA-11 both fit entirely within the confines of Fairfax County and the closer-in localities, with a small amount of population left over. This ended up being true in the Census data as well.

What was different was VA-10. The ACS version took up the remainder of Fairfax County, along with all of Prince William, Loudoun, Manassas, and Manassas Park, and then also needed to go into Fauquier. The Census version not only doesn’t go into Fauquier, it takes in only about half of Loudoun (geographically.)

I also thought it was interesting that of the three NoVa districts, it was actually the exurban Prince William-Loudoun hybrid that was closest to being majority-minority.

Here’s a map of a true majority-minority district in NoVa — which doesn’t go into either Arlington or Alexandria(!):

The lime green district has a VRA breakdown of

41 white/18 black/25 hispanic/12 asian/0 native/4 other

The other two districts are 60% white. Obama won all three districts, even with the Loudoun County bug.

Here’s a map with two majority-minority districts:

VA-08 (blue) is 46/10/21/18/0/3. VA-11 (green) is 48/18/19/11/0/4. Pink is 69% white, with Asians as the next largest group at 12%. Obama won all three of these districts as well — interestingly, this is actual a better configuration for him. He won the pink district by about three points more in the 2 majority-minority configuration than in the single. This is primarily because much of Arlington ended up in the pink district.

Other configurations are certainly possible. I suspect, although I haven’t been able to construct it yet, that a majority-minority district where Asians are the second largest group after whites is possible. So far, the best I’ve done puts Hispanics five points ahead of Asians.

Several new Rasmussen Pres. swing state polls


McCain (R) 47%

Obama (D) 47%…


McCain (R) 48%

Obama (D) 47%…


Obama (D) 50%

McCain (R) 42%…


Obama (D) 49%

McCain (R) 48%…


Obama (D) 50%

McCain (R) 47%…

Solid numbers for Obama in all five states.

Congressional races round 2: Utah, Vermont, Virginia

Continuing through the alphabet, and nearing the end 🙂

Utah has 3 representatives: 2 Republicans and a Democrat

The filing deadline was March 17, the primary is June 24

Vermont has 1 representative – a Democrat

Filing deadline is July 21, primary is Sept. 9

Virginia has 11 representatives: 8 Republicans and 3 Democrats

Filing deadline was April 11, primary is June 10

District: UT-01

Location Northwestern UT, including Ogden and part of Salt Lake City

Representative Rob Bishop (R)

First elected  2002

2006 margin 63-32

2004 margin 68-29

Bush margin 2004 73-35

Notes on opponents Neither raised much

Current opponents Morgan Bowen, no funding info.  Bishop has $150K COH

Demographics 36th fewest Blacks (1.1%), 8th most Republican (per Cook PVI)

Assessment  Long shot

District: UT-02

Location Most of Salt Lake City, and all of southeastern UT

Representative Jim Matheson (D)

First elected  2000

2006 margin 59-37

2004 margin 55-43

Bush margin 2004 66-31

Notes on opponents In 2004, John Swallow raised $1.5 million to Matheson’s $2 million; in 2006, LaVar Christenson raised $800K to Matheson’s $1.6 million

Current opponents Bill Dew, Donald Ferguson, Kenneth Gray, Merrill Cook, Brian Jenkins, Chris Jacobs (no funding info on any).  Matheson has $850K COH

Demographics 18th fewest Blacks (0.6%), 25th most Republican

Assessment Pretty safe

District: UT-03

Location Southwestern UT, including Orem and Provo

Representative Chris Cannon (R)

First elected  1996

2006 margin 58-32

2004 margin 63-33

Bush margin 2004 77-20

Notes on opponents Neither raised much

Current opponents A primary and then Bennion Spencer (n funding info). Cannon has only $52K COH and $180K in debt

Demographics 11th fewest Blacks (0.5%), most Republican district in the country

Assessment Cannon could lose a primary, but this is as Republican a district as exists.

District: VT-AL

Location Vermont

Representative Peter Welch (D)

First elected  2006

2006 margin 53-45

2004 margin NA

Bush margin 2004 39-59

Notes on opponents 13th most rural (61.8%), 4th most Whites (96.2%), 11th fewest Blacks (0.5%), 17th fewest Latinos (0.9%)

Current opponents None formally announced; Welch has $711K COH

Demographics 13th most rural (61.8%), 4th most White (96.2%), 11th fewest Blacks (0.5%), 17th fewest Latinos (0.9%)

Assessment Safe

District: VA-01

Location Northeast VA, including Fredericksburg and most of the Chesapeake shoreline (on the western side)

Representative Rob Wittman (R)

First elected  2007

2006 margin NA

2004 margin NA

Bush margin 2004 60-39

Notes on opponents NA

Current opponents A primary, then Keith Hummel (no funding info).

Demographics 13th most veterans (17.7%),

Assessment The primary may be a battle

District: VA-02

Location Virginia Beach and the eastern side of the Chesapeake

Representative Thelma Drake (R)

First elected  2004

2006 margin 51-48

2004 margin 55-45

Bush margin 2004 58-42

Notes on opponents In 2006, Phil Kellam raised $1.7 million to Drake’s $2.3 million. In 2004, David Ashe raised $400K to Drake’s $800K

Current opponents Glenn Nye, who raised over $250K in the 1st quarter of 2008. On 12/31, Drake had $425K COH

Demographics 3rd most veterans (20.3%)

Assessment  Vulnerable. Superribbie ranks it the 40th most vulnerable Republican seat.

District: VA-03

Location Richmond and Norfolk and more or less contiguous points in between

Representative Bobby Scott (D)

First elected  1992

2006 margin Unopposed

2004 margin 69-31

Bush margin 2004 33-66

Notes on opponents In 2004, Winsome Sears raised $200K to Scott’s $500K

Current opponents None

Demographics 53rd most veterans (15.5%), 59th fewest Whites (37.7%), 16th most Blacks (56%), 60th most Democratic

Assessment Free ride

District: VA-04

Location Southeastern VA

Representative Randy Forbes (R)

First elected  2001

2006 margin 76-23

2004 margin 64-35

Bush margin 2004 57-43

Notes on opponents Neither raised much

Current opponents Andrea Miller (no funding info).  Forbes has $350K COH

Demographics 34th most veterans (16.2%), 38th most Blacks (33.1%), 91st fewest Latinos (2.0%)

Assessment long shot

District: VA-05

Location Central southern VA, north to Charlottesville

Representative  Virgil Goode (R)

First elected  1996

2006 margin 59-40

2004 margin 64-36

Bush margin 2004 56-43

Notes on opponents Al Weed ran both times, raising about $500K each time

Current opponents Tom Perriello has raised $600K and has almost all of it.  Goode has raised $438K and has $593K COH (both as of 3/31/08)

Demographics 10th most rural (64.0%), 68th most Blacks (23.9%), 67th fewest Latinos (1.6%)

Assessment Slightly vulnerable   Superribbie ranks it the 54th most competitive Republican seat

District: VA-06

Location Northwestern VA, bordering WV, including Roanoke

Representative Bob Goodlatte (R)

First elected  1992

2006 margin 75-12-12 against minor parties

2004 margin essentially unopposed

Bush margin 2004 63-36

Notes on opponents NA

Current opponents Sam Rasoul had raised $131K and had $62K COH on 12/31; Goodlatte had over $1.3 million COH

Demographics 86th most Republican

Assessment  Long shot

District: VA-07

Location Richmond and points north and west

Representative Eric Cantor (R)

First elected  2000

2006 margin 64-34

2004 margin 75-24

Bush margin 2004 61-38

Notes on opponents In 2006, James Nachman raised $100K to Cantor’s $3.5 million

Current opponents Anita Hartke (no funding info).  Cantor has $555K COH

Demographics 90th highest income (median = $51K), 90th fewest Latinos (2.0%), 86th most Republican


District: VA-08

Location DC suburbs

Representative Jim Moran (D)

First elected  1990

2006 margin 66-31

2004 margin 60-37

Bush margin 2004 35-64

Notes on opponents In 2004, Lisa Marie Cheney raised $300K to Moran’s $1.6 million.  In 2006, Tom O’Donoghue raised $111K to Moran’s $1 million

Current opponents Amit Singh, Mark Ellmore, Dianne Kelly, Basil Mossaides, John Villaneuva…. all of whom either have no funding info, or more debt than COH.  Moran has $700K COH

Demographics 68th highest income (median = $63K), 48th most nonBlack, nonLatino, nonWhites (mostly 9.5% Asians), 77th most Democratic


District: VA-09

Location Eastern VA, bordering NC, TN, KY and WV

Representative Rick Boucher (D)

First elected  1982

2006 margin 68-32

2004 margin 59-39

Bush margin 2004 59-39

Notes on opponents In 2004, Kevin Triplett raised $600K to Boucher’s $1.6 million.  The 2006 opponent raised little

Current opponents Jody Egan (no funding info).  Boucher has $1.2 million COH

Demographics 7th most rural (65.9%), 24th lowest income (median = $30K), 27th most Whites (93.3%), 27th fewest Latinos (1.1%)

Assessment safe

District: VA-10

Location Northern VA, bordering MD and WV

Representative Frank Wolf (R)

First elected  1980

2006 margin 57-41

2004 margin 64-36

Bush margin 2004 55-44

Notes on opponents In 2004, James Socas raised $900K to Wolf’s $1.6 million.  In 2006, Judy Feder raised $1.6 million to Wolf’s $1.8 million

Current opponents Feder is running again, as is Mike Turner and there is a primary opponent, too.  Feder has raised $588K and has $480K COH, Turner has raised $60K and has $30K COH; Wolf has $550K COH.

Demographics 10th highest income (median = $72K), 76th most nonWhite, nonBlack, nonLatino (6.6% Asian, 1.9% multiracial),

Assessment Slightly vulnerable   Superribbie ranks it the 46th most competitive Republican seat

District: VA-11

Location DC suburbs

Representative Tom Davis (R) who is retiring

First elected  1994

2006 margin 55-44

2004 margin 60-38

Bush margin 2004 50-49

Notes on opponents In 2006, Andrew Hurst raised $300K to Davis $3.6 million

Current opponents The Democrats:

Doug Denneny $31K raised, $14K COH

Gerry Connolly no funding info

Leslie Byrne  $115K raised, $110K COH

Demographics Highest income (median = $80K), 41st most veterans (15.9%), 40th most nonWhite, nonBlack, nonLatino (10.9% Asian, 2.6% multiracial)

Assessment  Should be a competitive race.   Superribbie ranks it the 10th most competitive Republican seat

PA-05: McCracken offers real solutions for Veterans

This week I had the chance to participate in a candidate forum on veteran’s issues held in Franklin, Venango County.  The forum offered a great opportunity to address several issues important to veterans in the 5th district.  Several weeks ago I spoke with Ed Scurry, one of the veterans who set up the forum, and he mentioned to me the frustration that veterans in the north central region feel in trying to get regular attention from the current congressman.

Understanding their frustration, one of the ideas I offered during the forum is that I will employ a person on my district staff in the position of Veteran’s Liaison.  The top priorities of the Veteran’s Liaison will be to meet on a regular basis with veterans and veterans groups on issues important to them on the local, regional and national levels.  Additionally, I will utilize this person to keep me informed and up to date on all issues important to veterans.  Perhaps the most important part of my idea, and a promise I will keep, is the person I hire as the Veterans Liaison will be a veteran from the 5th district.

I also continue to press my idea that the federal Veteran’s Administration should have the ability to subcontract with local health care providers so elderly and disabled veterans can get health care services closer to home.  I’ve told the story several times during the campaign of Clearfield County veterans who have to travel to Pittsburgh to get cardiac care when we have a state of the art cardiac facility at the DuBois Regional Medical Center.

Another issue of great importance to veterans in the 5th district and across the nation is the issue of concurrent receipt.  It is my firm belief that a veteran’s pension payment and military disability compensation should be kept separated – one should not have an affect on the other.  A veteran has earned their pension and it should not have an amount deducted if they also receive disability compensation.  Additionally, if a veteran has served their country and suffered a service related disability, our nation owes them their disability compensation.  In Congress, I will support veterans receiving their full military pension and, for any disabled veterans, they should also receive their disability compensation in addition to their pension.

As a nation, we owe a tremendous debt to our veterans.  My recently deceased father was a proud veteran of World War II and my father-in-law served in Vietnam.  Also, as county commissioner, I work closely with our county VA Director to make sure he has the funding to adequately serve veterans in Clearfield County.  It’s a sad day when we hear the stories coming out of Congress that they fail to adequately fund services for our nation’s veterans.


This diary is cross-posted at McCracken’s campaign blog, PA’s Blue Fifth

Mark McCracken for Congress

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