Earlier this summer the Supreme Court agreed to review Bethune Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, a case challenging the use of race in the 2011 redistricting of Virginia’s 100-seat House of Delegates.
Virginia claimed to be trying to comply with the Voting Rights Act, by insisting that certain districts had to have at least 55% black voting age population. However, as redistricting experts like Justin Levitt have pointed out, this approach is a bad caricature of what the Voting Rights Act requires, which is an equal opportunity to participate in elections and elect candidates of choice for members of protected groups, like African Americans. As the plaintiffs claim, what Virginia did was use the VRA as an excuse to “pack” black voters into a smaller number of districts in order to actually dilute their voting power.
This sort of racial gerrymandering would be more difficult, and less effective, if Virginia did not elect its state legislature in single-winner districts. This issue, like so many others, is effectively caused by the use of that outdated, winner-take-all election structure. That’s an important reason why FairVote has argued that Virginia should elect its state legislature with ranked choice voting in multi-winner districts.
As long as Virginia continues to use single-winner districts, courts must step in to prevent these sorts of abuses. Oral argument on the case is expected in November or December.