The four members of the Arlington delegation to the House of Delegates, like their 96 colleagues elsewhere in the state, may find themselves running in three elections in three successive years starting this November.
It’s becoming increasingly likely that delays in getting Virginia officials U.S. census data will not provide enough time to redraw districts in time for the Nov. 2 general election. As a result, delegate races might be fought out under existing districts this year, then under the new districts in 2022 and again in 2023.
“There is a growing sense that census data will not be received in time,” Arlington Electoral Board secretary Scott McGeary said, basing his view on discussions with legislators from across the commonwealth.
Others with their ears to the ground were beginning to come to the same conclusion.
In order to get districts redrawn on schedule in 2021, “things have to be done quickly – I don’t think they’re going to be,” said Matt Weinstein, who chairs the Arlington Electoral Board.
Virginia is one of the few states that elects legislators the year after each decennial federal census. As a result, U.S. Census Bureau officials attempt to put Virginia’s population and demographic data on a fast track to enable the redistricting to occur quickly.
But the COVID pandemic and political wrangling at the federal level have slowed things.
Adding to the uncertainty: The new year brings a new way of drawing legislative districts, which once were the exclusive domain of the legislature but for 2021 have been turned over to a bipartisan committee of both lawmakers and citizen members. Working through the new process could further delay the redistricting.
If the census data materialize quickly, it is still possible that House of Delegates primaries could be held in the late summer, as is normally the case in redistricting years. But if lawmakers decide that’s not feasible, the primaries could be held in June using the old districts.
“That’s just one scenario – we really are just waiting to see,” said Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington’s chief election official.
The 40 members of the state Senate are not impacted, as their terms run through 2023. But how the decision-making for House of Delegates primaries plays out could impact the statewide primaries for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, which ordinarily are held in June but could be held later.
“We’ll have to be flexible,” Weinstein said.
Having three consecutive annual elections for House of Delegates would not be unprecedented; McGeary said it occurred in 1981-82-83, as the lower house of the legislature was transitioning from multi-member to single-member districts under court order.
All four of Arlington’s delegates are Democrats; so far, three (Patrick Hope, Mark Levine and Alfonso Lopez) appear to have picked up intra-party challengers.
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