New redistricting move proposes big changes to Virginia Senate districts

On Monday, the Virginia Senate narrowly passed (20-19) a new redistricting bill that will dramatically change the boundaries of the current Senate districts drawn just two years ago.  The plan, passed by Senate Republicans on a party-line vote when a Democratic Senator was away on Inauguration Day, has been criticized by Democrats as an overt attempt to give Republicans an advantage in future elections by “packing” and “cracking” black communities in Virginia in order to dilute their voting power.  Republican Sen. John Watkins, the legislator who sponsored the redistricting amendments, instead says the new plan would defuse possible Voting Rights Act legal challenges by creating a new minority-majority district and also cited improvements in district compactness.

The move by Senate Republicans is unusual, as such massive changes to a district map are typically reserved for redistricting sessions right after the decennial census.  As a result, this recent redistricting drama has garnered much national attention this week and was a top-ten story on Wednesday.

The Virginia Public Access Project has made the proposed HB259 plan available for viewing on their interactive maps:

Virginia Map of Senate Redistricting Plan HB259

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Forget Ohio, it’s all about Virginia…and demographics

In my humble opinion, the biggest news coming out of the election last night was not Ohio.  Instead, the polling results coming out of Virginia, that heavily favored Obama early in the evening, set the tone for the entire night.  The story of what happened in Virginia exemplifies where our politics in this country now stand.  Obama’s repeat victory in the Old Dominion underscores what was probably the biggest factor in the 2012 election: demographics.

For our regular readers, especially those who read our Red State, Blue State report back in July, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.  Ohio, Florida, and other swing states are used to the attention and have been “purple” for a long time now. Obama’s repeat victory in Virginia, however, a state that has voted consistently for Republican presidential candidates before 2008, is really big news.  More than anything else, Obama’s victory in Virginia means that 2008 wasn’t a fluke, but rather represented a fundamental political realignment in the country.

That realignment is bad news for Republicans.  The Republican party has serious demographic problems.  Virginia’s shifting demographics, like that of the nation, have been dramatic in just the last few decades with Hispanics and Asians driving most population growth and changes in the electorate.  Republicans have had considerable difficulty gaining the votes of these groups.  In Virginia, most of the influx and growth in Hispanic and Asian populations is occurring around the Washington D.C. suburbs in Northern Virginia (NoVa).  It was therefore not surprising that NoVa was the focus of the national news media, and results from that region look more like those from 2008 than from 2004.

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How we learned to stop worrying and love the American Community Survey

I don’t like filling out surveys as much as the next guy.  But I wouldn’t think the world would come to an end if I was told I had to do so.

Yet, some of rhetoric coming from Right-wing blogs and the Republican Party would have us believe that the U.S. Census Bureau and the American Community Survey (ACS) are the devil and his pitchfork — alluding to some Orwellian future if the ACS was allowed to continue.  Some of this rhetoric has made it into the official Republican platform:

…the Census Bureau acts exactly as a scam artist would, asking very personal questions and using fear of penalties to manipulate the repondent to answer…

…the Census Bureau has used tactics such as harassing letters, phone calls, agent visits and even questioning neighbors to get information about respondents.

…the Republican National Committee recognizes that the Census Bureau is spending millions of tax dollars to violate the rights and invade the peronsal privacy of United States Citizens…

Resolution Concerning the American Community Survey, approved by the RNC August 6, 2010

They turned harsh words into action as The House of Representatives recently voted to eliminate the ACS, a “mandatory,” mail-based, national survey of 3 million people conducted annually by the Census Bureau.  Political antics quickly followed suit.  The Left was quick to admonish congressional Republicans and cast this as yet another example of Right-wing extremism.  The Right feels vindicated that it has given yet another blow to a government that has overreached its authority.

Let’s take a breather for a moment and consider some facts:

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Humanization vs. invasion of privacy

As a professional demographer, and one who studies and collects data on people for a living, one of the issues I frequently get asked about is privacy.  The topic has always been important in my work for the Weldon Cooper Center and it also has been front and center for the U.S. Census Bureau in recent years.  For example, in 2010 the Republican National Committee passed an official resolution stating that many of the Bureau’s activities are “overreaching,” “intimidating,” and “dangerous” in regards to privacy, particularly for its American Community Survey (ACS).

While I share some of the RNC’s concerns about the mandatory nature of the ACS (although the Census Bureau very rarely enforces any sort of penalty for not answering), my primary concerns over privacy lie elsewhere.  The mountain of new data gathered by private corporations on what we eat, what we read, where we travel, what we buy, and how we surf the internet is bought, sold, and traded with impunity, often without us knowing about it.  The U.S. Census Bureau is a bastion of privacy and protection compared to what the burgeoning data mining and micro-targeting industries do on a daily basis.

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