- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

RICHMOND — The Republican-led Senate Privileges and Elections Committee advanced a House-drawn congressional redistricting map Tuesday on a party-line 8-7 vote, continuing the bill’s speedy path through the state legislature over objections that it is unconstitutional and dilutes the vote of minorities.

Both the House and the Senate advanced their own maps to reapportion the state’s 11 congressional districts in line with population changes based on the U.S. Census during a special session last year. They reached a stalemate, however — the Senate wanted two minority influence districts while the House wanted one — so the process was delayed until 2012.

Deputy Attorney General Wesley G. Russell Jr. was peppered with questions Tuesday from Democrats on the bill’s legality, since the state Constitution says new lines are to be drawn in decennial Census years, which would be 2011.

Mr. Russell, however, said the interpretation of the Constitution did not implicitly bar redistricting from occurring in any other year, rattling off a number of non-Census years in which the legislature passed redistricting plans.

Senate Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin, Richmond Democrat, said the bill diluted the minority vote because Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott’s 3rd District is the sole minority-majority district in the state and no other district has a black population above 33 percent.

“This bill minimizes minority voting strength,” he said. “This is the wrong thing to do.”

Delegate Robert B. Bell, Albemarle Republican and the bill’s sponsor, however, said that it protects the one-man, one-vote principle, does not “retrogress” the black population, and complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The House of Delegates quickly approved the bill last week by a 74-21 margin.

The committee on Tuesday also shot down a measure introduced by Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax Democrat, that would allow people to vote absentee in person without providing an excuse on a similar 8-7 party-line vote and approved a measure to establish a bipartisan redistricting commission tasked with submitting proposals for House, Senate, and congressional maps to the General Assembly.