Several officials at the Virginia Department of Elections and in the City of Fredericksburg were confused about how Virginia’s district lines were defined in the years leading up to the 2017 election, according to documents obtained by WTOP through the Freedom of Information Act. That confusion likely contributed to 147 people voting in the wrong House of Delegates races Nov. 7. One of those races, along with control of the House, was decided by just 73 votes. The process is complicated, and the lines are not defined on a map but are based on the voting precincts that were in place during the most recent census. Those precinct lines immediately become out of date after any General Assembly redistricting process, since local governments are similarly required to redraw lines based on the new population information.
A February 2012 memo from the Division of Legislative Services acknowledged that can be hard to wrap your head around, calling the process “easily misunderstood.” That memo also warned of the challenges if Virginia tried to keep the law or official maps more up to date.
“Failure to update annually, or mistakes in making updates, could give rise to serious confusion or challenges with regard to candidacies for office, voter participation, election returns and similar issues,” the memo said.
But that is exactly what happened in November, when Republican Bob Thomas beat Democrat Joshua Cole by 73 votes in the 28th District to replace retiring House Speaker Bill Howell.