Commission Receives First Set of Draft Maps for Northern Virginia

All 16 members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission got their first look at draft redistricting maps for Northern Virginia  in a virtual meeting September 2. The commission met for three hours, but could take no votes because members were not meeting face-to-face. 

The Commission has also now published a new full revised schedule of its future meetings and public hearings.  The Commission plans to meet twice a week in September and October, as it continues its review of draft maps of different regions.  Eight public hearings on the proposed maps will be held in early October, all virtually, with one additional hearing scheduled for October 22 before maps are sent to the General Assembly for approval.  

The first sets of draft maps were presented by map drawers  John Morgan (hired by the Republican legal team) and Ken Strasma (hired by the Democratic legal team). With advice from counsel, the co-chairs asked the map drawers to start in Northern Virginia because of the huge population there, and the fact that there are no  issues related to Racial Polarized Voting (RPV) in that region.  Morgan and Strasma each drafted a set of  maps for the House of Delegates and State Senate districts in Northern Virginia – specifically, Fairfax and Arlington Counties and the cities of Falls Church and Alexandria, plus a small part of Loudoun County.   With limited time to draft these maps, Strasma and Morgan each drew two sets of maps. The maps can be reviewed in the middle of this document, from pages 37-112.  

During the short discussion,  Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) commented that he favored the map drawn by Morgan, the Republican-appointed map drawer,  apologized for previous critical comments, and said the map was “perfect.”  Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) commented that he lives in the last house on the border of the district he represents, and may have been drawn out of “his district.” He said, “We need to give opportunities for people to get reelected.”  He indicated that a number of senators are considering retiring rather than running in new districts.

The map drawers indicated they plan to work together to produce one set of draft maps for each region in the future, rather than two sets.  Strasma said they preferred to work directionally across the state, rather than hop-scotching around, because each decision impacts adjacent counties, cities, and regions.  

Harris announced that plans call for two sets of regional maps to be prepared and released each Monday, with discussion by the Commission later that week.

Racial Polarized Voting (RPV) Analysis.  The Commission also heard a report on Racial Polarized Voting (RPV) prepared by Maxwell Palmer of Boston University and Benjamin Schneer of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School.  Palmer explained that RPV occurs in localities where the white voters, as a bloc, vote differently from African American or other minority voters.  Using data from five statewide elections in 2016-2018, Palmer and Schneer determined that statewide, a very high percentage of minority voters (Black, Asian, Hispanic) voted for Democratic candidates – over 90 percent of Asian and Black voters, and over 75 percent of Hispanic voters.  In the same five elections, fewer than 50 percent of white voters supported the Democratic candidates (a range of 36  percent to 44 percent).  “This is evidence of racially polarized voting.”  Palmer explained that RPV may occur without discriminatory intent.

Palmer then summarized their findings by looking at seven of the eight regions of the state, as defined by the  Weldon-Cooper Public Policy Center.  (They explained that they did not analyze the Southwest region because it has so few minority voters.)  All seven regions were  “uniformly blue, indicating that on average more than 70 percent of Minority voters supported the Democratic candidate. This is evidence that Minority voters in every region have clear candidates of choice, and are cohesive in supporting these candidates.”   When analyzing white voters in the seven regions, there were significant variations.  There was evidence of “very low levels of support for Democratic candidates in the Eastern and Southside regions, low levels of support in the Valley, West Central, and Hampton Roads regions, 40-50 percent support in the Central region, and 50-60 percent  support in Northern Virginia. This indicates that voters are not polarized in Northern Virginia, and only a small majority of White voters support Republican candidates in the Central region.”

Analysis continued by looking at the 11 Congressional districts.  In Districts  8 and 11 in Northern Virginia, a majority of white voters supported the Democratic candidates; thus there is no evidence that RPV exists in those two districts.  On the other hand, only 30-40 percent of white voters supported the Democratic candidates in Districts 1, 5, 6 and 7.  In Districts  2, 3, 4 and 10, “White voters are close to [evenly]  split; they support Democratic candidates with 40-50 percent of the vote.” 

In summary, looking at Congressional Districts 3, 4, 8, 10 and 11, where minorities comprise at least 40 percent of the voting population,  Palmer and Schneer found that in Districts 3, 4 and 11, there is evidence of  “somewhat racially polarized voting”.   

The  RPV report can be reviewed here.  

Report from the Communications Team.  The Commission also heard from the Communications team of  Esmel Meeks and Mindy Carlin of  Access Point Public Affairs.  Together they explained their plans to help the Commission organize public input and to conduct more extensive outreach to the public via social media, print media and email distribution.  They will be using a data management platform called Jambo, which will be available to members of the Commission, but will not be “public-facing”.  Reports can be generated that can be shared with the public.  The plan is to upload and sort the comments that have already been submitted into Jambo.  New comments will be submitted via a new portal.  Such submissions will have details such as the name of the commenters and where they live,  and their stakeholder type (e.g., individual, business, organization,or other).  Comments will be categorized according to subject and region. 

Meeks and Carlin said they will be improving the functionality of the commission’s website, and adding more explanatory material. They also hope to reach out to other state commissions, the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties, plus organizations such as the Chambers of Commerce and the Urban League and NAACP.  Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) suggested working with faith organizations, day-care centers, and HBCUs Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Co-chair Harris asked Commission members to suggest additional names and organizations to the consultants if they had ideas. 


–Chris DeRosa, LWV-Arlington


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