Southampton stays competitive in state redistricting maps

Published 5:55 pm Thursday, December 23, 2021

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Southampton County would remain a General Assembly battleground under a redistricting plan the Supreme Court of Virginia released on Dec. 8.

The county is currently located in Virginia’s 75th House of Delegates District, which flipped Republican in November when Otto Wachsmann defeated incumbent Democratic Del. Roslyn Tyler, who’d held the seat since 2006. Per federal and state constitutional requirements, state legislature and congressional voting districts must be redrawn once every 10 years based on the latest census data.

Under the proposed maps created by two court-appointed special masters, Southampton County would move to the 83rd District, which would encompass much of the same territory as the present-day 75th, minus the city of Franklin, which would move to the 84th.

The currently majority-Black 75th would become majority-white as the 83rd by including parts of Isle of Wight and Dinwiddie counties, and subtracting Franklin and part of Lunenburg County. According to an analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project of the proposed 83rd’s share of votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, the district could swing Republican or Democratic in future elections by a margin of up to five points. A memorandum from special masters Bernard Grofman and Sean Trende has the district leaning slightly more Republican based on the results of the 2017 Virginia attorney general election.

The 84th District is expected to lean Democratic by five to 20 points based on VPAP’s analysis. In addition to Franklin, it would encompass part of Suffolk and the remaining areas of Isle of Wight County — including where Republican 64th District Del. Emily Brewer now lives.

​​According to VPAP’s analysis, the map gives House Democrats a slight edge statewide, reducing the number of solidly “red” Republican seats and “purple” districts that could swing either way. The special masters’ memo, however, states Republicans “may find it slightly easier to win a majority” but “Democrats will have a tendency to enjoy larger majorities when they win.”

A congressional battleground

The city of Franklin and parts of Southampton County would also become more competitive in the 2022 congressional midterms.

Currently, Southampton County is located entirely in the 4th District and represented by Democratic Congressman A. Donald McEachin, who won reelection in 2020 with just over 61% of the vote. The proposed redistricting map would move Franklin and areas of Southampton County east of the Nottoway River and Ivor Road into the 2nd District, which Democratic Congresswoman Elaine Lura most recently won with 52% of the vote. The special masters’ analysis of congressional elections spanning 2016 through 2020 shows the 2nd District leaning Democratic by a slim margin. However, VPAP’s analysis has the district leaning Republican by five to 20 points based solely on its share of the votes from the 2016 presidential election.

The newly redrawn 4th District, which would also remove areas of Chesterfield and Henrico counties, would have a slightly higher percentage of Black voters than it does currently, and as such, would “likely continue to elect the African-American population’s candidate of choice,” according to the special masters’ memo. The memo and VPAP’s analysis both show the district remaining solidly “blue,” with Democratic candidates likely to secure roughly two-thirds of the vote.

“In a very good Republican year, Republicans could win a majority of the seats in Virginia’s delegation,” but “we would expect to see a 6-5 Democratic edge,” the memo states. In a very good Democratic year, “Democrats might perhaps achieve the same 7-4 advantage that they now enjoy from having won two highly competitive seats in 2020.”

No Senate incumbents

No current state senators would live within the boundaries of Southampton County’s or Franklin’s newly created Senate districts, according to an analysis by VPAP. According to the special masters’ memo, Grofman and Trende “maintained ignorance about the residences of incumbents” since the federal and state statutory criteria for redistricting “make no mention of protecting incumbents.”

A total of nine state Senate districts and 24 House of Delegates districts would be left without an incumbent legislator, according to VPAP, while in other cases, this lack of taking incumbency into account would result in two or even three legislators — some from opposite parties — all living within the proposed new boundaries of a House or Senate district.

Southampton County and the city of Franklin are currently split between the 14th and 18th state Senate districts, held by Republican Sen. John Cosgrove and Democratic Sen. L. Louise Lucas, respectively. Under the proposed map, Southampton and Franklin would move entirely into the 17th District, which would also include Suffolk, Isle of Wight County and part of Portsmouth. The district would be just over 50% white and would lean five to 20 points in favor of Democratic candidates based on VPAP’s analysis of its share of votes from the 2016 presidential election. The special masters’ memo also has the district leaning in favor of Democrats.

According to the memo, each party would need to win an election in an “unfriendly territory” in order to control the state Senate.

Per a 2020 change to the state constitution, Virginia’s Supreme Court took control of the redistricting process after a bipartisan committee of legislators and citizens deadlocked in October on how to redraw the state’s Senate, House and congressional districts.

The state Supreme Court scheduled two virtual public hearings on the proposed maps on Dec. 15 and Dec. 17. According to a Dec. 8 press release from the state Supreme Court, there will be no in-person hearings. Written comments may also be submitted by emailing remarks to by 1 p.m. Dec. 20. Written comments will be published to the “public comments” link on the court’s website.