Last year when the Virginia redistricting was underway, I was one of the loudest voices in the state opposed to what the Virginia Senate Democrats were doing with their maps. The Senators put George Barker in charge of drawing the districts, and came to an understanding with the House of Delegates that each body would pass the maps proposed by the majority in the other body. But when the lines were released, I was stunned to see a majority of Senate seats still Republican leaning (21 of 40) while the House of Delegates had drawn 69 of 100 Republican leaning seats. In other words, Democrats appeared to be giving up party control of the Senate, in exchange for a solidly GOP House for the next 10 years.
What made the process even more stunning was talking to individual Senators who told me how they were working on lines with Barker and then-P&E Chairwoman Janet Howell. Without giving too much away from these sources, it would be fair to say the technology being used to draw these districts on the Democratic side was not much more progressed than software that was used 10 or 20 years ago.
The reason that I say it was basically the same type of software available long ago is the Senate Democrats were driven by current precinct and county lines- and the election results within. So for example, Martinsville and Danville cities are both solidly Democratic, so both were put into the district held by then-Senator Roscoe Reynolds. Many precincts in between were split in order to connect those two areas with as little population as possible (Republican leaning) in between. Same goes for Westgate precinct in Fairfax County. Westgate is one of the strongest GOP precincts in Northern Virginia, and neither south county Senator (Toddy Puller or Barker) wanted Westgate in their districts. But there was no real sophistication into how those precincts were split. So Westgate was placed where it would do little harm- in the district held by then-Senator Patsy Ticer from the City of Alexandria. Once again, precincts were split to get Westgate connected to Alexandria with little sophistication on how they were split exactly.
On the other hand, Republican drawn districts looked politically tight and precise. When the Congressional Delegation came up with a "unity" map to re-elect the incumbents (8 of 11 are Republican), it again appeared that the GOP had taken the lead in drawing, as the districts were extremely precise in how they had been drawn.
One precinct which I was watching for on election night this year was the Penn precinct (210) in Prince William County. Penn is a GOP leaning precinct that voted for McCain/Palin by a few points and sits in the Coles magisterial district, which is the district most likely to predict an outcome in Prince William County- the county which has the longest streak of picking statewide winners. In other words, this is ground zero for Virginia politics.
When the redistricting maps came out, something about Penn precinct jumped out of the page at me. Penn had been split in the maps drawn by Republicans for the House of Delegates and United States House of Reps exactly the same way. I knew it was for political advantage, but I really wanted to see how effective this split would be in the results.
The bigger chunk of Penn, about 79% of it, was placed in the 1st Congressional (Rob Wittman) and 51st House of Delegates district (Rich Anderson), while the smaller chunk, about 21% of the precinct went with the 11th Congressional District (Gerry Connolly) 31st Delegate seat (Scott Lingamfelter). In the Congressional map, it was drawn to help all incumbents, so I knew the Connolly chunk was supposed to be more Democratic, while the Wittman area was supposed to be more Republican. In the House of Delegates districts, Republicans were trying to solidify Anderson who narrowly won his seat in 2009, so he got the more Republican area, while the Democratic area went into the much safer GOP seat of Lingamfelter that runs into other strongly GOP areas.
After reading all this, you must be wondering- how effective was this map? Here it is:
Rob Wittman/Rich Anderson portion of Penn precinct
Mitt Romney 1,028 (59.1%)
Barack Obama 710 (40.9%)
Gerry Connolly/Scott Lingamfelter portion of Penn precinct
Mitt Romney 107 (26.4%)
Barack Obama 298 (73.6%)
18.2% Romney margin of victory vs. a 47.2% Obama margin of victory
In this one precinct, a 65.4%(!!!!!!!!) swing in the vote from the GOP redistricting split.
Nothing else I can add to that other than I hope Democrats are willing to update their technology in 2020 if they can find a way at the table in the next redistricting.
UPDATE: Check out the maps Kenton Ngo did on this precinct split to get some visual idea of what happened.