New at Reason: A. Barton Hinkle on Gerrymandering and Power-Sharing in the Virginia State Senate

On Nov. 8 Virginians elected 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans to the State Senate. Because Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling presides over the Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes, the GOP has claimed a majority, and is refusing to establish a power-sharing arrangement like the one the Senate operated under the last time it was evenly divided, in the mid-1990s. Back then, the shoe was on the other foot: A Democrat, Don Beyer, was lieutenant governor. Democrats said they therefore had an effective majority, and rebuffed GOP demands to share power—until Virgil Goode, a DINO (Democrat in Name Only) said he wouldn’t be party to such a plan. Goode’s position forced a compromise and infuriated his colleagues; one Democrat fumed that Goode had "absolutely lost his mind."

Now the Democrats are saying what the Republicans were saying then, and vice versa. Putting aside the flip-flops on both sides, though, what’s wrong with their complaint? In a word, writes A. Barton Hinkle: gerrymandering. If Senate seats were apportioned according to aggregate vote totals, then Democrats would be entitled to 16, not 20 seats. So how did they get 20? By drawing the new district lines in a manner guaranteed to favor Democratic candidates. 


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