Population Changes May Cause Legislative Districts to Shift in Hampton Roads

Population Changes May Cause Legislative Districts to Shift in Hampton Roads

According to data from the 2010 US Census, Suffolk had the highest population percentage increase in Hampton Roads. With a population of approximately 84,585 residents at the time of the census, the city holds a population growth rate of 32.8%. In a February 4 article in The Virginian-Pilot, Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson stated, “I don’t think it comes as a surprise. We knew we were growing, and that’s what we’ve been working toward and hoping we are ready for.”

Virginia Beach is the most populous city in Hampton Roads. Its population grew 3%, while Norfolk had a 3.6% increase. Chesapeake had the largest increase of citizens, with 23,025.

The desired population for each Senate district is 200,026. Currently, the Hampton Roads region is generally 10% below that objective. As for the House of Representatives, the goal is 80,010 per district, and the Hampton Roads area is roughly 6% below the target. Congressional districts want at least 727,366 residents in each district; Hampton Roads again falls about 10% below the goal.

The Virginia Public Access Project has posted maps with 2010 Census data that show which legislative districts must add or shed population, and a statewide map with cities and counties shaded to reflect the population changes from 2000 to 2010. To view the maps, visit http://www.vpap.org/updates/redistricting_maps.

Because the General Assembly is obligated by law to give legislative districts equal population, Virginia’s political landscape will change. Although most counties do not have a definite plan yet, Loudoun County has developed guidelines for its redistricting design. That presumably, other counties will have similar, if not identical, guidelines. Some of the guidelines are the new plan must adhere to the Voting Rights Act, which states minority voters must have the opportunity to participate in elections. The US Census Bureau must be the one and only source used as a guide for population, and whenever possible, towns and cities should not split into multiple districts within themselves. Lastly, geographical and/or physical features, such as rivers and main roads, should be used for boundary lines.

With Republicans leading in the House of Delegates, and Democrats leading in the Virginia Senate, the redistricting could easily cause either party to lose a seat or gain one. If the GOP is able to acquire two more seats in the House, it will have efficient control. This would be a victory for Republicans if they are the majority party in both legislative chambers and the three statewide offices. Because Hampton Roads does not meet the desired population standards, it will have to give up about 1½ House seats and around eight-tenths of a Senate seat.

Despite growing from 7 million citizens to 8 million in the last ten years, the increase is not enough the give Virginia a new seat in the US Congress. Additionally, the Virginia Beach territories covered by Senator Frank Wagner and Senator Jeffrey McWaters could merge; meaning the largest city in Virginia would have just one senator.

Regarding the population shifts in Norfolk particularly, leaders referred to re-development and downtown expansion as the reason for the increase. Qian Cai, director of the Demographics & Workforce Group at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, cited that high birth rates, and not migration, as the reason for the increase of citizens. “There are still people moving out,” she said in a February 4 article of The Virginian- Pilot. “You want to see people moving in. In Norfolk, that’s not the case.”

According to the Virginia Public Access Project website, Portsmouth has the highest population of African-American citizens in Hampton Roads. This could very well influence the statistic of black-owned businesses in the Hampton Roads, which is currently 16%, surpassing the national average of only 7%.

“Activity centers” are also being deemed as prominent reasons for population increases. The areas surrounding Harbor View in Suffolk, Greenbrier in Chesapeake, and Town Center in Virginia Beach saw growths. Trip Pollard, who specializes in transportation and land-use reform with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Richmond, said that because of the population growths near these activity centers in suburban areas, people are seeing it less necessary to visit urban centers like Norfolk.

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