SB840: Congressional and state legislative districts.

SENATE BILL NO. 840

Offered January 14, 2015
Prefiled January 5, 2015
A BILL to amend the Code of Virginia by adding in Article 2 of Chapter 3 of Title 24.2 a section numbered 24.2-304.04, relating to standards and criteria for congressional and state legislative districts.
Patron-- Watkins

Referred to Committee on Privileges and Elections

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. That the Code of Virginia is amended by adding in Article 2 of Chapter 3 of Title 24.2 a section numbered 24.2-304.04 as follows:

§ 24.2-304.04. Standards and criteria for congressional and state legislative districts.

A. Every congressional and state legislative district shall be constituted so as to adhere to the following criteria, in the order in which the criteria are set forth in subsections B through G.

B. Existing political boundaries shall be respected to the maximum extent possible. Political boundaries shall include the boundaries of counties, cities, towns, county magisterial and election districts, municipal councilmanic districts, and voting precincts. If a departure from existing political boundaries is necessary in order to comply with other districting criteria, the district lines shall be drawn utilizing clearly observable physical boundaries. A "clearly observable boundary" shall include (i) any named road or street; (ii) any road or highway that is a part of the federal, primary, or secondary state highway system; (iii) any river, stream, or drainage feature shown as a polygon boundary on the TIGER/Line Files of the United States Bureau of the Census; or (iv) any other natural or constructed or erected permanent physical feature that is shown on an official map issued by the Virginia Department of Transportation, on a United States Geological Survey topographical map, or as a polygon boundary on the TIGER/Line Files of the United States Bureau of the Census. No property line or subdivision boundary shall be deemed to be a clearly observable boundary unless it is marked by a permanent physical feature that is shown on an official map issued by the Virginia Department of Transportation, on a United States Geological Survey topographical map, or as a polygon boundary on the TIGER/Line Files of the United States Bureau of the Census.

C. Legislative and congressional districts shall be established on the basis of population. Senate and House of Delegates districts, respectively, shall each have a population that is as substantially equal to the population of every other such district as practicable. Congressional districts shall have populations that are as nearly equal as practicable. The General Assembly shall be guided by the most recent federal and state judicial decisions defining standards for equal population for the respective districts, including permissible deviations from ideal population if the deviation is necessary in order to achieve some other legitimate districting criterion.

D. Districts shall be drawn in accordance with the requirements of federal and state laws, and judicial decisions interpreting such laws, that address racial and ethnic fairness, including the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and the provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended.

E. Each legislative and congressional district shall be composed of contiguous territory. A district shall be deemed contiguous if it is possible to travel from one point in the district to any other point in the district without crossing the boundary of the district. Territory that touches the rest of a district only by a point shall not be deemed contiguous territory. Districts divided by water shall be deemed contiguous if a common means of transport, such as a bridge or ferry, connects the two parts of the district or, if the water were to be removed, the land on one side of the district would be contiguous with the land on the other side of the district.

F. Each legislative and congressional district shall be composed of compact territory. Districts shall not be oddly shaped or have irregular or contorted boundaries, unless justified because the district adheres to political subdivision lines. Fingers or tendrils extending from a district core shall be avoided, as shall thin and elongated districts and districts with multiple core populations connected by thin strips of land or water. The General Assembly shall employ one or more standard numerical measures of individual and average district compactness to provide an objective assessment of a districting plan's compactness, both statewide and district-by-district.

G. Consideration may be given to communities of interest by creating districts that do not carve up homogeneous neighborhoods or separate groups of people living in an area with similar interests or needs in transportation, employment, or culture.

H. The General Assembly shall not include political data or election results as part of a redistricting database, and no district shall be drawn using political data or election results in order to favor a political party or incumbent legislator. This prohibition includes using addresses of incumbent legislators, political affiliations of voters, and previous election results. This prohibition shall not apply to minority or ethnic districts drawn pursuant to subsection D if an analysis of election data is required in order to determine if racial or ethnic minorities can elect candidates of their choice.