(Thank you to Deb Wake, Action Director of this update on Redistricting. This article and more can be found in the latest issue of The Virginia Voter.)
Redistricting Update, Including 1st Day of Special Session
Action Director, LWV-VA
On June 26, 2018, the Eastern District Court of Virginia ruled that 11 House Districts were racially gerrymandered and the lines drawn in 2011 were unconstitutional and needed to be redrawn by October 30, 2018. A timeline can be found here: https://www.brennancenter.org/legal-work/bethune-hill-v-virginia-board-elections. On July 6, 2018, Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates filed an appeal of the ruling saying that a redrawing of lines would lead to confusion, they didn’t have much time to comply and that they felt the ruling was wrong and would be overturned. On July 19, 2018, Attorney General Herring issued a statement that he would not be appealing the June 26 ruling or asking for a stay.1 On August 20, 2018, Governor Northam called a Special Session for August 30, 2018.2 On August 29, 2018, the Democrats released a map redrawing the 11 districts in question3 and the Republicans immediately released a statement calling the Democrats’ map partisan and racially drawn.4
During the floor debate, Delegate Toscano said that they reached out to the Republicans a couple of times about working on redrawing the lines together but received no response. In fact, he said the Court gave the Republicans an August 24 deadline for issuing a response. He said the Democrat-drawn map was produced with same rules followed by Reps, and historical criteria used in the drawing of districts–a 1% deviation in population. He argued that if the Republicans found the map unconstitutional, they should vote against it.
Delegate Gilbert said the map was created to disenfranchise Republicans while keeping Democrats safe. He argued that the Democrats’ map did not fix court-ordered changes but, instead, created new ones. Republicans identified 115 issues pointed out by the court, indicating that only 29 were fixed by the Democrats’ map.
Speaker Cox made several appointments to the Privileges & Elections (P&E) Committee: Del. Robert Bell (58th) to replace Del. Gregory Habeeb (8th)and Del. C. Todd Gilbert (15th) to replace Del. S. C.hrisJones (76th).
About 30 minutes after the session recessed, the P&E committee meeting began at 2:25 p.m. in House Room 3. The meeting picked up where the floor session left off with the Republicans grilling the Democrats on who drew the maps, who was present, whether race was a criterion and how it was that Republicans were drawn out of their districts while Democrats were kept safe. The Democrats said that they did not know where the incumbent Republican lawmakers live and that unpacking of African American voters will necessarily change the makeup of surrounding districts. Democrats did not interpret the court ruling in the same way as Republicans regarding specific recommendations for each district/precinct but rather mainly focused on unpacking black voters and trying to keep populations within 1% deviation–which, as the Republicans pointed out–they were not always
successful in achieving.
Public comment followed a 15-minute recess. Many who spoke were volunteers with OneVirginia2021 and insisted that a nonpartisan citizen commission is needed to fairly redraw the lines.
Sue Lewis, LWVVA president, expressed disappointment that both sides were unable to work together for a solution.
Following public comments, Delegate Sickles pressed for amendments to address Republican concerns with (1) the map, (2) three hearings on September 8 for public comment and (3) reconvening on September 12. Delegate Gilbert moved to adjourn, motion seconded. Voice vote followed by a show of hands; the committee adjourned with no date for next meeting and no adoption of Sickles’s proposals.
Besides the fact that four elections have been held since the lines were drawn in 2011, which now been found to be unconstitutional, there is the original cost of drawing the lines, the cost of defending of the lines in the courts, court costs and the costs of the special session. There is still no resolution and more costs will be incurred before the October 30 deadline is met or missed. It is possible that the courts will end up having to draw the lines.
The League of Women Voters of Virginia supports the formation of an independent commission to draw districts.
In the evening of August 30, 2018, the court denied the Republican appeal.5
2 – https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/northam-calls-aug-30-special-session-for-legislature-to-redraw-districts/2018/08/20/c9905d58-a489-11e8-a656-943eefab5daf_story.html?utm_term=.d6139308c3f92