Geography & Virginia Politics

State Senator Dave Marsden and former Virginia Delegate Bob Hull, currently the community outreach specialist for NOVA’s Annandale Campus, visited Instructor David Miller’s Cultural Geography (Geo 210) class at NOVA Annandale on June 10 to talk about changes in their districts over time.

Both speakers discussed redistricting, which is done after every census so that voting districts are roughly equal in population, and “gerrymandering,” where the political party in power shapes districts to gain political advantage. Districts were last redrawn in 2011, when Republicans controlled the House of Delegates and the governor’s mansion, with Democrats a majority in the Virginia Senate. Districts were drawn to protect incumbent legislators and minimize the number of Democratic districts in the House of Delegates and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Senator Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) talked about his serpentine-shaped State Senate District 37, which includes NOVA’s Annandale campus (map below). The 2011 redistricting stretched his Fairfax County district east to west, from inside the Beltway to the Loudoun County border, with a population of some 200,000 people.

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Senate district 37 before and after redistricting.

The map in the image below shows his district as conservative and Republican in the west (red areas), and more liberal and Democratic in the east (blue areas). Senator Marsden asked students to “define liberty” and many students were at a loss to put this common concept into words. He explained, “liberty means different things to different people.” His constituents differed in their concerns about liberty, ranging from guns and fox pens to Virginia’s minimum wage and the Sea of Japan – East Sea controversy in Virginia textbooks.

State Senator Marsden describing his district.

State Senator Marsden describing his district.

Sen. Marsden talks in Oct 2015 about elections.

Sen. Marsden talks in Oct 2015 about elections.

Former Delegate Bob Hull speaking to students.

Former Delegate Bob Hull speaking to students.

Former Delegate Hull represented District 38 from 1993 to 2010. A lifelong Falls Church area resident, Hull earned his associate degree in biology at NOVA before transferring to Virginia Tech. In the 1990s, Hull’s district stretched from Alexandria in the east to the beltway in the west and included all of the City of Falls Church. Hull described how District 38 lost Falls Church, became more compact, and changed in ethnic diversity, as the district’s population swelled to more than 80,000 people by 2010.

Both speakers reminded students that 2015 is an election year in Virginia, with all 100 delegates and 40 state senators up for election on November 3, 2015. They noted that too few people vote in primaries (see graph below), which presents a danger to democracy. Students were encouraged to be aware of local issues and vote in primaries as well as the November elections.

Only 29% of all voters take part in General Assembly (GA) elections for the House of Delegates and State Senate, shrinking to 7.8% for the 2015 primaries.

Just 29% of Virginians voted in the 2011 General Assembly (GA) elections for the House of Delegates and State Senate, but only 7.8% voted in the 2015 primaries.