In addition, when Democrats controlled the Virginia Senate before the 2011 legislative elections, they designed the districts to help themselves. The current GOP bid to redraw those lines arises partly from simple retaliation.
"It's just a raw and uncensored act of Republican revenge, because Republicans were furious at what Democrats did following the 2010 Census," said Bob Holsworth, a retired Virginia Commonwealth University political science professor. McDonnell appointed him to chair a bipartisan redistricting commission whose maps were ignored.
The new GOP bill on the Senate is especially offensive and worrisome because of its timing. The parties are supposed to make major changes in the map only once each decade, a principle enshrined in the state constitution.
The Republicans maintain that it's okay because they're just fixing lines that the Democrats drew inappropriately. But that's a transparent dodge.
The GOP risks setting a precedent that would lead to constant redistricting battles not only in Virginia but also elsewhere around the country. That would aggravate partisan hostilities and distract legislators from dealing with schools, roads and other issues that affect voters more directly.
"It's very, very rare to have a mid-decade partisan gerrymander," Persily said. "The question is are we entering an age of perpetual gerrymandering. This won't stop in Virginia if it becomes the norm."
The controversy should prompt the public and responsible politicians on both sides to demand adoption of a nonpartisan process for drawing election maps. California and some other states have given the job to bipartisan commissions, with generally positive results.
Unfortunately, that's unlikely to happen right now, because the GOP currently has an interest nationally in protecting existing gerrymanders.
That's because the Republicans won control of so many state governments in the anti-Obama backlash in the midterm elections in 2010. That allowed them to draw more maps in their favor than the Democrats were able to do following the decennial census.