Virginia state delegates, senators, and congressmen looking to hold onto their seats got major news Monday, as Gov. Bob McDonnell announced the creation of an independent bipartisan redistricting commission to guide the process that will take place later this year.

The commission, tasked with crafting redistricting plans based on newly released data from the U.S. Census, will be chaired by longtime Virginia political analyst Bob Holsworth, founder of the nonpartisan political blog Virginia Tomorrow.

It is comprised of 11 members drawn from the fields of business, government service, and academia, who will pass along recommendations to the General Assembly, which must convene to hash out plans after complete Census data is released sometime in February.           

“As Virginia redraws its legislative districts later this year, the process should take place in a manner that is fair and open,” McDonnell said. “Legislative districts should be drawn in a way that reflects commonsense geographic boundaries and communities of interests as required by law.”

Redistricting plans, which legislators often design to protect incumbents, face the prospect of passing through a divided state legislature; Democrats control the Senate and Republicans hold a majority in the House.

State Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, who chairs the Senate’s Privileges and Elections Committee, was skeptical of talk of a bipartisan commission last month, pointing out that the governor declined to support an effort in the Senate last year to create such a commission despite a campaign promise of ensuring bipartisan citizen involvement in the process.

One Northern Virginia legislator likely keeping a close eye on the process that will unfold later this year is Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Democrat, who won reelection to a second term by less than 1,000 votes over Republican challenger Keith Fimian.

All 140 members of the General Assembly are up for re-election in the fall.

Any changes Virginia makes to its districts must be approved by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.