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Virginia Redistricting Challenged ACLU, Republicans Accuse Each Other Of Gerrymandering

By Craig Timberg
THE WASHINGTON POST -- RICHMOND, Va. -- African-American lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union warned Monday that Republican plans for redrawing Virginia’s congressional districts may violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by lessening the influence of black voters.

The charge threatened to throw a wrench into what Republicans, who rule both houses of the General Assembly, hoped would be a smooth two-day special session to adopt new congressional boundary lines to account for population growth.

Complaints focused on the 4th Congressional District, which was won in a racially divided special election last month by J. Randy Forbes, a white Republican, over a black candidate. Virginia is among the first states to begin the once-a-decade redistricting process.

Under the original Republican plan submitted by Del. Jeannemarie Devolites, R-Fairfax, the 4th District, stretching from the Richmond suburbs to Hampton Roads, would have gone from 39 percent black population to 32 percent, making it potentially easier for Forbes -- or any other Republican -- to win. African Americans are among the most reliable supporters of Democrats.

Devolites, who defended her plan as legal Monday, raised the African American population to 34 percent in a revision, but black leaders said the updated plan still dilutes the voting power of African Americans.

“My assessment is that’s illegal,” said Rep. Robert C. Scott (D), Virginia’s only African American in Congress. “What happens to the ability of minority voters to elect a candidate of their choice?”

State Sen. Yvonne B. Miller, D-Norfolk, said of the Devolites plan, “It’s also making Virginia look like a state that’s going through a second Reconstruction period, when we’re rolling back the rights of African Americans.”

Virginia is one of several southern states with a history of segregation that are monitored closely by the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act.