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ArlingtonElection officials in wait-and-see mode on election do-over

Election officials in wait-and-see mode on election do-over

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Yes, Virginia, there may be a rerun of all 100 House of Delegates races in the new year. Maybe not, but possibly.

If so, personnel in the Arlington elections office will be ready, they say.
“We’ll just have to wait and see how this process plays out,” said Gretchen Reinemeyer, the county’s director of elections, in a look-back-and-look-forward report to the county’s Electoral Board on Nov. 30.

Squeezing House of Delegates elections into the November 2022 schedule of elections shouldn’t pose a logistical challenge, as Arlington voters are slated to cast ballots for U.S. House of Representatives, County Board, School Board and, potentially, pass judgment on county bond referendums.

In a normal environment, the 100 House of Delegates districts would have been redrawn, using data from the 2020 federal census, in time for the 2021 election. But COVID slowed both the census and subsequent data reporting, so Virginia officials did not receive data from the federal government in time to rejigger the lines.

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As a result, the lines drawn in 2011 were used for the 2021 campaign, which saw Republicans pick up seven seats to garner what appears to be (pending final challenges) a two-seat majority in the lower house of the legislature.

Using districts that old technically breaks Virginia law, and at least one lawsuit has been filed to require voters to go back to the polls next November in a re-do.

Whether the state judiciary will agree remains an open question: Any number of laws were technically broken during the COVID era, as the state government attempted to bob and weave to address evolving conditions, and in most cases, Virginia courts have not gotten involved.

Were Virginia to see three consecutive years of House of Delegates elections, it would not be a first. In the early 1980s, the commonwealth went through the same situation as it moved from multi-member to single-member districts after the former ran afoul of the courts.

Before new elections are held next year – if they are held – the new lines will have to be put in place. With the Virginia Redistricting Commission having failed to reach consensus on the matter, line-drawing has been booted up to the Virginia Supreme Court, which is hiring experts to draw the map.

When those lines will be finalized remains an open question.

“There’s no timeline,” said Arlington Electoral Board chair Matt Weinstein. “You can’t ‘force’ the Supreme Court.”

For Arlington, the major impact of redistricting could be a reduction in the number of seats from four to three, with the Alexandria-centric 45th District’s few South Arlington precincts being reallocated to perhaps the Arlington-focused 49th District. But that, too, is an open question.

All House of Delegates districts that include parts of Arlington – the 45th, 49th, 48th and 47th – are Democratic strongholds where Republicans and independents usually split less than 25 percent of the vote. The main action usually takes place during the Democratic primary; earlier this year, Alexandria City Council member Elizabeth Bennett-Parker knocked off incumbent Mark Levine in the Democratic primary in the 45th, while Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th) survived a challenge from his left. Bennett-Parker, Lopez, Patrick Hope (D-47th) and Rip Sullivan (D-48th) had no trouble winning general-election victories.

In theory, holding new elections in November 2022 might help Democrats rebound from the drubbing they took in Virginia this year. On the other hand, several incumbent Democrats House of Delegates members narrowly escaped defeat, and could be imperiled if the mood of the statewide electorate, which swung noticeably against their party this year, continues moving back to the GOP.

Virginia’s 11 congressional districts are slated to be redrawn in time for the 2022 elections, with the 40 state Senate districts being revised in time for the 2023 elections.

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