Virginia 2023 Electoral Update

March 17, 2023

Pardon Our Dust

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Redistricting Context

This June’s primaries and conventions will mark the first time that Virginians cast their ballots in state legislative districts drawn based on the new bipartisan redistricting constitutional amendment adopted in November 2020. The amendment established a bipartisan redistricting commission, comprised of state legislators and other politically appointed citizens of the Commonwealth and tasked with drafting and approving state and federal district maps.

The commission, however, failed to reach consensus on either state or federal maps, thereby punting responsibility to the Supreme Court of Virginia. The Supreme Court appointed two “special masters,” or experts in the field of redistricting, from both the Republican Party of Virginia and the Democratic Party of Virginia to redraw the maps in an “apolitical and nonpartisan manner” after a contentious period of public comment. Ultimately, the Supreme Court unanimously approved three final maps – for the State House, State Senate, and U.S. Congress – in late December 2021, thus setting the stage for the next decade of political battles in Virginia.

New Faces

Notably, the new maps were drawn without consideration of incumbent residency, thereby pitting countless sitting Delegates and Senators against each other, and leaving even more seats with no incumbent whatsoever. As a result of the new dynamics, a growing number of lawmakers have chosen to not seek reelection, while others are electing to move to a neighboring district rather than face newly unfavorable political chances in their current district.

As of mid-March, about one-third of the 100 House districts and one-fourth of the 40 Senate districts are now considered “open seats,” – they have no incumbent representative. Four House districts and one Senate district now feature incumbent-versus-incumbent primaries or conventions.

Setting aside the dramatic manner in which redistricting will limit the number of returning lawmakers next year, many incumbents are also facing the two traditional issues of primary or convention challengers and difficult general elections. Almost one-fourth of current senators have primary or convention challengers, while about 10 delegates will have to fight to defend their party’s nomination from a non-incumbent member of their own party. While it is difficult to know exactly how many seats are truly competitive this November, a number of freshman legislators who displaced incumbents in 2021 will face a challenging path to reelection this November.

New Leadership

Not only will the General Assembly have a likely record-breaking number of new faces next January, but leadership – particularly in the Senate – will be completely shaken up. Delegate Kathy Byron, Republican Chair of the House Commerce and Energy Committee; Delegate Rob Bell, Republican Chair of the House Courts of Justice Committee; and Delegate Margaret Ransone, Republican Chair of the House Privileges and Elections Committee are all retiring. Delegate Emily Brewer, Republican Chair of the Communications, Technology, and Innovation Committee, is seeking a Senate seat. Meanwhile, Delegate Barry Knight, Republican Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Delegate Glenn Davis, Republican Chair of the House Education Committee, are squaring off in an incumbent-versus-incumbent primary this June. While Speaker Todd Gilbert and Minority Leader Don Scott are likely to continue leading the Republicans and Democrats, respectively, it is unclear which party will emerge with most seats in the House in November.

The Senate’s leadership may be even more severely disrupted with the retirement of Democratic Majority Leader Dick Saslaw – who also chairs the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee – and Republican Minority Leader Tommy Norment. Senator Louise Lucas, President Pro Tempe and Democratic Chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee and the Senate Rules Committee, is facing a primary against Senator Lionell Spruill, Democratic Chair of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. Additionally, Senator Janet Howell, Democratic Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee; Senator John Edwards, Democratic Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and Senator Lynwood Lewis, Democratic Chair of the Senate Local Government Committee announced their retirements.

Another Wrinkle

Members of the General Assembly must declare by April 6 in which district they plan to run; for lawmakers who plan to move districts, this means that they must have their new address by that date. However, once a delegate or senator announces an address in a new district, he or she must vacate his or her current seat, as the Virginia Constitution requires that lawmakers live in the districts they serve. This requirement becomes particularly thorny when considering that the General Assembly reconvenes on April 12 for its annual veto session.


The stage will finally be set in a few weeks as to who will run in which districts. Stay tuned for more information.