C1 Congressional District Map and Partisan Fairness

The Virginia Redistricting Commission met Monday, October 18 but, without a quorum present, no business could be conducted, or votes taken. The meeting instead began with comments, many negative, from fifteen citizens who were concerned about the impact on their communities of the Commission’s C1 map.

The commissioners then took advantage of the “down time” to be outspoken about their views.  Their “no holds barred” comments included strong criticism of the other party’s intentions.  They began with Del. Marcus Simon’s (D-Falls Church) accusations that the Republican maps may have been “actually drawn by the National Republican Redistricting Trust (NRRT).  Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Chatham) then criticized Del. Simon for making an “accusation like collusion” just because two out of eleven districts are identical.  Sen. Stanley suggested he could “make the accusation that this Delegate (Simon) was put on this Commission to ‘blow it up’ since he was opposed to this Commission.” When the charged atmosphere ebbed, Del. Margaret Ransone (R-Kinsale) expressed hope that “we get the train back on the tracks.”

After Del. Ransone’s call to start talking about maps, the discussion turned to how to adjust for partisan fairness. Both counsels agreed the U.S. Supreme Court will not hear cases on partisan gerrymandering and there is no Virginia case law to guide the Commission.  They presented their analyses of Commission map C1 with Democrat Dr. Kareem Crayton calculating that C1 includes five Republican districts, five Democratic, and one leaning Democratic. Crayton also said, “we should hopefully all be able to agree that when a majority of the people of Virginia express a preference for a political party, the map should at least reflect a majority of seats for that party.” He also presented a report from the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) on criteria for partisan fairness in other states. 

The Republican lawyers had prepared a memorandum which was available to the commissioners shortly before their meeting. Counsels Chris Bartolomucci and Bryan Tyson gave their opinion that map C1, if adopted, would not violate Virginia statute because Virginia Code does not expressly demand “proportional representation” – awarding the two major political parties a number of congressional districts proportional to their share of the vote in statewide elections.

Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville) pointed out, “When we come back on Wednesday, we will have to come to consensus on what the language means as we go through the other criteria.” In response to a question about how to direct the map drawers to resolve some of the citizen comments about map C1, Del. Simon suggested “nothing stops us from sending an email to the co-chairs and staff asking for things for the next meeting.”

This next meeting of the Commission will be Wednesday, October 20 at 8 a.m.  There is also a virtual public hearing scheduled for Friday, October 22, but a decision on whether to move ahead with that hearing will be decided Wednesday when there is a quorum.

 

PUBLIC COMMENTS AND MORE COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE COMMISSION MEETING FOLLOW –

The meeting was called to order at 8:08 am with Co-Chair Greta Harris presiding. Public comments were the first item on the agenda.

Fifteen citizens presented their views. Thirteen spoke about the proposed congressional district maps, focusing on Greene County and Albemarle County, the “Dulles Corridor” in Fairfax County, south Stafford County, western Henrico County, Lynchburg, and Prince William County.  One speaker addressed the origin of map 323 submitted by a citizen, former Representative Tom Davis.  Another speaker responded to Commissioner Abrenio’s request at the October 14 meeting to hear from the public about the issue of partisan fairness – “what does it mean to unduly favor one party or the other”?

Pete Costigan, from Ruckersville, Greene County, focused his comments on the 10 maps submitted “in the past three days” – nine by citizens and one a combined effort from the Commission’s two map drawers.  He reviewed the maps with two questions in mind:  1.  How many of the maps included Greene County in a proposed district in which all of that district’s other counties were east of the Blue Ridge? and 2. How many maps included Greene County in the same district with Albemarle County?
Answers: Four maps included Greene County in a proposed district in which all of the other counties were east of the Blue Ridge, but only two maps included Greene in the same district as Albemarle.
During the Commission’s Oct 6th meeting, Mr. Costigan and several other speakers had urged the Commission to group various counties, including Greene, with other counties east of the Blue Ridge rather than with counties in the Valley.  He also suggested that Greene County and Albemarle County be included in the same House of Delegates district.
He noted that today’s meeting was about congressional districts, but reiterated his comments of Oct. 6th because he believes the reasons for these groupings are similar whether congressional or State districts are being considered.  He reinforced his points by explaining that both Greene and Albemarle Counties have experienced double digit population growth in the past decade.  Also, the two counties are connected geographically and, increasingly, economically – with Greene supplying employees to Albemarle employers who need them.
He closed with one last point – no public comments had been posted to the Commission website since Oct. 6 although he and others have submitted comments since then; he hopes that comments will be posted so that all can be considered. Co-chair Harris inquired of staff if comments are being posted and they responded that this was being “double checked”.

Robert Haley of Reston spoke next.  His comments were directed at the northern part of Fairfax County, primarily Reston and Herndon. He observed that both Reston and the town of Herndon “sit in the middle of the Dulles corridor” which runs from Tysons Corner to Reston to Herndon to Dulles Airport, noting that this area is currently in 11th congressional district.  Noting that “the corridor” is an “economic driver” for the east coast, he said he would like to see it stay intact in one congressional district.  He also said he would prefer it stay in the 11th district – “nice for continuity” –  and having the same congressional leader that we’ve had representing us for 10 years.

Fran Larkins, a resident of south Stafford County, noted and appreciated that Map C1 keeps the county in district 7.  She explained that this area is more oriented toward the north, citing the I95 express lanes “just about ready to be here”.  Ms. Larkins mentioned that the large number of congressional district maps posted makes it difficult to find C1 on list, suggesting that it be moved to an easier-to-find location in the list.
Ms. Larkins had “heard mention of using local magisterial districts as boundaries”. She observed that many of these are gerrymandered; and local governments are working to “undo” some of this.  If congressional districts are drawn along these lines, it would make undoing gerrymandering more difficult.
In concluding her remarks, Ms. Larkins stated that public comments haven’t been posted since October 7, except for 1 comment posted under the Oct 14th mtg. “We need to make sure comments are being seen.”

Brittany Rose of Henrico County spoke about how Map C1 treats western Henrico County.  She said it is “absolutely outrageous” that Henrico is being split into 3 districts – divided into Districts 4, 1, and 5.  This makes it hard for citizens to work with representatives and hard for representatives to work on the varied problems.  She continued, saying this [draw of Henrico County] may not be Voting Rights Act compliant and also calls into question partisan fairness; it does not work for Henrico or this part of Virginia.

Chrystal Doyle, also of western Henrico County echoed the comments made by Ms. Rose.  She said that west Henrico interests do not align with coastal interests; and believes the districts are drawn to dilute the voting power of west Henrico. She suggested the Commission needs to review the way Henrico was mapped into three congressional districts.  Ms. Doyle recommended that the Commission “go back and look at the demographics, at Henrico,”.  The county should not be divided into 3 districts.  She mentioned that she submitted written comments but hadn’t been able to confirm they had been received.

Ankit Jain responded to Commissioner Abrenio’s request for public views on  partisan fairness.  He noted that when the Commission has taken up this issue,  the discussion is often crassly political.  Mr. Jain wanted to speak to proportionality as an essential element of ensuring fair maps.  He posited that a fair map must ensure that a party’s seat share is about equal to a party’s vote share.  He described an example – if the Republican Party wins 54% of the vote in the next election, it should win about 54% of the seats, they should get 54% of the seats; likewise, if the Democratic Party wins 54% of the vote in the next election, it should win about 54% of the seats
He quoted the language in the law: “A map of districts shall not, when considered on a statewide basis, unduly favor or disfavor any political party.”  Mr. Jain went on to say that if a map is not proportional, and gives Republicans a higher seat share than the vote share they receive, that map unduly favors the Republican party and disfavors the Democratic party.
He believes that map C1 violates this requirement, illustrating the point with the following example:  In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 52.8% of the two-party vote share, but her vote share would only have given the Democratic Party 45.4% of seats on the C1 map.
An analysis of the C1 map by FiveThirtyEight, a data analysis company, shows a 7.1% efficiency gap in favor of the Republican Party.  He closed, saying he hopes the Commission will take consideration of proportionality seriously.  He believes in the Commission’s ability to agree on fair maps and that proportionality is essential to that goal.

Sam Shirazi, Arlington, focused his remarks on the origins and intent of Map 323, submitted by former Representative Tom Davis, saying it is sometimes necessary to speak truth to power.  He related that on Oct. 12, former Congressman Tom Davis (R) submitted map 323; on Oct 13, the Commission’s Republican map drawer released his map – Districts 6, 9 and the Lynchburg area were identical to the Davis map.  He continued, saying that this map turns Districts 1,5 and 7 into safe Republican districts.  “It seems like the only citizen whose map was considered was the Davis map.”  Mr. Shirazi concluded by saying that radical honesty is needed if this is going to work.

Marques Jones, resident of western Henrico County, echoed the points made by Ms. Rose and Ms. Doyle.  He said they live not too far from each other, but would be split into 2 congressional districts on the west end of Henrico.  Two districts are okay; but 3 – too many.  Mr. Jones, originally from southwest Virginia, said that west Henrico’s interests are totally different from more rural areas.  By splitting this county, the vote is really being diluted.  He asked the Commission to take time and read all the comments that have been put on map.  The west end of Henrico doesn’t want to be broken up; it doesn’t serve our interests.

Nicole Sanders, Lynchburg, spoke about the drawing of two precincts in Ward 2 into District 5 while the rest of Lynchburg was drawn into District 6.  She stated that the Lynchburg “split” doesn’t respect COI – it will cause citizen confusion and additional expense for the city registrar because those two precincts will need 2 different ballots.  She urged the Commission to revisit this decision, to unify Lynchburg.   

Ms. Niro Rasanayagam, Lynchburg, supported Ms. Sanders’ comments and said they were worth repeating.  She continued, saying that after all comments about keeping Lynchburg together as one community of interest, she is “mystified” by the proposed congressional districts map.  Why are 2 precincts of Ward 2 in District 5 and all the rest in District 6?  Ward 2 is a majority-minority area, predominantly African American; it was created as a majority-minority ward to give its residents fair representation in Lynchburg matters.  This “cracking” will dilute its power. Ms. Rasanayagam reiterated Ms. Sanders’ view that splitting Lynchburg will make elections more expensive for the city registrar’s office – 2 different ballots will be needed.  She urged that the Commission “keep us whole” in one congressional district.  In her view, it doesn’t matter which district, but do restore Lynchburg as one community of interest. 

Christina Vida, western Henrico County, said that Henrico should not be divided into 3 districts.  It is primarily connected to Richmond area and has no affinity to coastal Virginia or Northern Neck.  Further, the map doesn’t account for political proportionality; it appears to draw Rep. Spanberger out of her district.

Mr. Cozy Bailey, president of Prince William County NAACP, said that the proposed map now swings us [Prince William County] to be aligned to counties west of us with which we have no affinity.  He continued, saying that Prince William is the pre-eminent majority-minority county.  He noted that people of color do vote very similarly.  He observed that, in Map C1,  Prince William is split among 3 districts – two-thirds of Prince William is in District 7; the rest is split between Districts 10 and 11.  This is unacceptable.

Ms. Andrea Bailey, Prince William County, described herself as an  “advocating community leader”.  She thanked the Commission for “your great work” and encouraged it to continue working.  She related that she has lived in Prince William for 20+ years; she described Prince William as “part of NOVA region”.  Ms. Bailey described Prince William County as diverse and the second largest locality in the state.  She underscored Mr. Bailey’s comments about splitting Prince William County into 3 separate Congressional districts, saying it would dilute the power of its citizens.   Ms. Bailey suggested that the Commission “go back, look at the lines, use your diverse mindset, look at communities and bring them together”.  She described this as an opportunity to make more equitable decisions.

Mr. Chris Faraldi, Ward 4 representative on Lynchburg City Council, said that many have commented to keep Lynchburg whole.  He said that all earlier proposals appeared to keep Lynchburg whole so he was perplexed to see the city split into 2 districts (Districts 5 and 6) in Map C1.  He is concerned about ensuring the ability of Ward 2 to elect people of their choice.  Continuing, he said the current split cuts Ward 2 in half.  Mr. Faraldi said, “I found this draw for the “Hill City” extremely peculiar.”  He said an adjustment could keep all of Lynchburg in District 6, which would make sense.

Walter Alcorn, Reston, described himself as “active” in Fairfax County – 16 years on the Fairfax County Planning Commission and currently a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors representing Hunter Mill District.  He underscored the earlier comments of Robert Haley, saying that the Dulles Corridor is very much a community of interest.  He said look at it and try to keep this area in a single congressional district.  He expressed concerns about maps that show western half moved into a district that has little representation for Fairfax.  He concluded, saying that the Dulles Corridor is a cornerstone of Fairfax planning; many workers live in Vienna; please keep this COI intact.

Following the public comments, Co-chair Greta Harris opened the discussion about the Congressional maps.  She was pleased to see 170 comments on the single map C1, which was drawn by both map drawers.  Those comments were “exactly what we want”, she said, noting that this was far more than the ten comments on the dueling maps created earlier by separate map drawers.  She said that “even though most (commenters) don’t like map, that’s ok.  We can listen to feedback and work toward the “best possible map”.  She continued by saying it “would have been nice to have 1 map for the House and Senate, but that’s water under the bridge.”

The discussion quickly shifted to the C1 map and the map (#323) submitted by former Congressman Tom DavisDelegate Marcus Simon agreed with citizen Sam Shirazi’s concerns about these maps.  Simon said he also noticed that the Southwest Districts 5, 6, and 9 on both maps appear to be identical, and both maps split the city of Lynchburg.  He asked DLS staff to determine the source of Davis’ map; DLS staff informed Simon that the Davis map was created with the assistance of Jason Torshinsky, the law partner of (State Senator) Jill Vogel and the general counsel of the National Republican Redistricting Trust.  Simon then asked DLS staff to overlay maps C1 and A2, which do, “in fact, appear to be the same maps.”   Simon then went on to describe more concerns about the maps.  He surmised that Mr. Torshinsky was “drawing maps for (Republican map drawer) Morgan or vice versa.”  Simon wondered how many of the A maps drawn for the House and State Senate were “actually drawn by the NRRT.” Simon ended by suggesting that the Commission pick one of the citizen maps as a starting point. 

Senator Ryan McDougle expressed surprise at Simon’s accusations and remarks, noting that Delegate Sam Rasoul had submitted comments on maps. Later Sen. McDougle brought up Senator David Sutterlein making comments as well.  He accused the Democratic map drawers of drawing maps in an unfair manner, referencing the western part of the state, though he didn’t “think to ask.”  He noted that his colleague, Senator George Barker, submitted maps, but “we didn’t criticize George for submitting those as a citizen.”  Regarding compactness, McDougle pointed out that Arlington, Alexandria, Prince William County and Fairfax County together have about 2.5 million people, which would easily fill 3 Congressional districts, but the maps did not do that.  He agreed with Simon that Prince William County should be grouped together with either Loudoun or Fairfax Counties.  McDougle said he still had concerns about the Hampton Road area as well.  He continues to have concerns about the Voting Rights Act and the Gingles ruling, referencing districts considered “majority-minority” but without 50% or higher African American population.  He relayed that someone on Twitter was “throwing out things about suing us and litigation.”  He recommended that the Commission “focus on criteria we have established and focus on getting good maps”.  He is “happy to know citizens are able to express their opinion about what good maps look like.” 

Delegate Simon countered that Delegate Rasoul’s comments were different – they were placed on the public comments pages.  “That is qualitatively, procedurally, substantially different” from what happened after last Thursday’s Commission meeting –  Simon wondered if the “undisclosed third party colluded” with Congressman Davis and/or map drawer John Morgan. He wondered how it could happen “by coincidence.” 

Senator Stanley criticized Simon for making an “accusation like collusion” just because 2 out of 11 districts are identical.  He noted that nine districts on the Davis and C1 maps are different.  That would not be a “preponderance of evidence” and would not hold up in court.  Stanley suggested that he could “make the accusation that this Delegate (Simon) was placed on this Commission to ‘blow it up’” since he was opposed to this Commission.  Stanley said that the Commissioners should “be able to put our heads together” to draw 11 districts.  “Collusion! Conspiracy! These are hobgoblins of minds…” 

Republican counsel Bryan Tyson  briefly responded to Delegate Simon, saying that the “allegation of collusion is serious. On our side, we understand our responsibility to not talk to outside” persons. He explained that the cochairs asked us to look at citizen maps – we looked at several; there aren’t a whole lot of ways to draw SW Virginia. “The idea that we conspired with NRRT is patently untrue.”  He then said that they had had one conversation with Torchinsky, who asked about uploading maps.  Tyson’s team referred him to Meg Lamb.  Tyson  explained that it was a “matter of trying to follow directions given by the co-chairs.  It is clear we take our obligations seriously.  We did not communicate outside of this process.”

Democratic map drawer, Ken Strasma, stated that his team had “not received any maps from outside organizations.”  They “only looked at maps submitted publicly.”  Democratic Counsel Kareem Crayton continued by explaining that this map (C1) was partially drawn by both Democratic and Republic map drawers.  “The starting point was the footprint” of districts 3 and 4 as drawn by the special master a few years ago.  The Democratic map drawers were assigned Districts 8, 10 and 11 in Northern Virginia.  The Republicans drew districts 5, 6, and 9. The remaining terrain was then filled in.  We didn’t “engage in outside communications; that didn’t happen.” 

Delegate Margaret Ransone expressed her hope that “we get the train back on the tracks. Let’s start talking on maps.  That’s what I came here today” to do.  We’ve gotten “good input from public. We have a map that was brought to us. We can’t take votes, but we can look at maps.” 

Citizen Commissioner Rick Harrell stated that we “don’t get anywhere trying to impugn the motivations of those we can’t know about.”  He was “appalled that we cast aspersions at those who work with us.”   Harrell thought the map was pretty compact, especially considering that map drawers started with Districts 3 and 4. He continued with comments about how districts had to be reconfigured to consider population loss or growth. He said he wasn’t concerned with 4200 people being pulled out of Lynchburg in CD6 even though most of them were African-American voters – that African-American voters might have more voting power than “if they were left in CD 6.”  He said that would not be a significant problem because Congressional members are more concerned with national issues.  He continued by discussing how the balance switches from 5 Democratic Congressional seats to 6 Republican seats, and vice versa, over the years. “That’s as competitive as you can get.  If the tide continues to move, these districts will vote that way.”

Sen. Barker pointed out that the address doesn’t matter on the Congressional maps, but it looks like Democratic incumbents are pulled further away from their districts.  With 170 comments about the maps, there were only one or two that were positive.  “Trying to just tinker with this map will not get us closer to where we want to be.”

Co-chair Harris asked if anyone had done an analysis of how many of the districts are Democratic or Republican leaning.  Sen. McDougle said he had not and didn’t look at the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) comparison, but Dr. Kareem Crayton could speak to it as he pulled election data from 2012 – 2018.  Crayton’s analysis of all the different maps showed that map C1 included five strong Democratic maps, five strong Republican, and one that leans Democratic.  District 2 was later identified as the one which was “leaning Democratic” and very much “swing” with 50.1% Democratic

Harris then suggested they could potentially start discussion with the C1 map and look at concerns expressed by citizens in those areas where we’ve gotten the most comments.  Lynchburg, Henrico, and parts of Northern Virginia are the “pain points”.  “We can discuss our priorities and focus on how to resolve them.”  Sen. McDougle pointed out that some comments didn’t talk about the Peninsula and asked how one dot was in the middle of the ocean.  It was explained that the public could put dots anywhere on the map and there are also dots in West Virginia.

Citizen commissioner James Abrenio speaking virtually suggested they incorporate citizen comments and feedback and hope the next iteration will fully reflect those, e.g. think about mountains in addition to waterways.  He mentioned reading Republican counsel Bryan Tyson’s  memo that justifies the political fairness of the C1 map but he would like a full discussion of both sides to make his own conclusions. 

Democratic counsel Dr. Kareem Crayton thanked the Republican lawyers for the memorandum which he didn’t endorse but saw as a starting point.  They did agree on several points.

  1. The U.S. Supreme Court has exited the discussion about partisan gerrymandering.
  2. The provisions in the Virginia law – “A map of districts shall not, when considered on a statewide basis, unduly favor or disfavor any political party.” VA.CODE ANN. 24.2-304.04(8) https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title24.2/chapter3/section24.2-304.04/

He explained that they differed on whether that means one can take election performance into account.  Proportionality is a different thing.  Parity is a better approach.  Crayton circulated a report on how 50 states define redistricting criteria from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a nonpartisan source.  The states talk about political fairness in one of three ways – not pairing incumbents, not favoring or disfavoring a political party.  Five talked about competitiveness.

“Our point of view is that one does need to take past performance into account. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you lock it in. Past performance is not arbitrary.  It’s what the public has expressed through elections.”  Currently seven of the eleven Virginia congressional districts are Democratic and that should be taken into account to some degree.” “If you’re going to talk about competitiveness, you do so separately from the discussion about political fairness.  It’s related but to say that you’re not going to favor or disfavor a party, it’s just not the same as saying we want competitive districts.  Part of that is competitive districts focus much more on a district-by-district assessment.” 

“I’m concerned about an approach that would lock in or at least make it more likely that the same number of Democrats and Republicans are elected when we have evidence that that’s not how the public has voted in recent elections.  How much we decide to weigh that as compared to competitiveness might be a conversation for the Commission to consider.”

Republican attorney Chris Bartolomucci then walked through their memorandum that was submitted to the Commission, “Guidance on Political Favoritism.” Bartolomucci mentioned that the Democratic counsels had respectfully declined to sign on to the memo.  Virginia law provides: “A map of districts shall not, when considered on a statewide basis, unduly favor or disfavor any political party.” VA.CODE ANN. 24.2-304.04(8) 

Bartolomucci then pointed out that because it was enacted only last year, no Virginia court has addressed what this means, and we can’t point you to any Virginia case law.  In the 2019 Supreme Court Case, Rucho v Common Cause, 139 S. Ct. 2484, it was decided that federal courts will not hear partisan gerrymandering claims. Rucho, however, explained that state courts “may decide and a few states already have been deciding partisan fairness cases based on state statutes.” 

Counsels Bartolomucci and Bryan Tyson then gave their opinion that map C1, if adopted, would not violate Virginia statute.  They pointed out that a bipartisan map drawing process was used to create C1; and the map drawers drew C1 based on traditional districting criteria, including contiguity and compactness, maintaining political subdivisions and preserving communities of interest. The map drawers were expressly instructed not to favor or disfavor any political party; and C1 appears to be politically balanced with five safe Democratic districts, five safe Republican districts, and one district that is either Republican-leaning or a swing district.

Bartolomucci explained that map C1 may not achieve ‘proportional representation’ which is “awarding to the two major political parties a number of congressional districts proportional to their share of the vote in statewide elections.”  Their opinion, however, was that “Virginia Code does not expressly demand proportional representation because it would have used more direct language, including the term “proportional representation.”  They suggested “that would have been quite an elephant to hide in a mouse hole if that was what was intended by that language.”  They also pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court in Rucho rejected the ‘claim that the Constitution requires proportional representation outright.” 

Sen. Barker commented that the fundamental issue to resolve is to get bipartisan support.  He agreed with Bartolomucci about the federal issue.  “We were aware of the Supreme Court when we put together legislation that dealt with the criteria.  What we wanted to do was to basically give some latitude in there not to dictate a specific proportionality in any respect but to make clear that this is something that the Commission would need to deal with and figure out how it was going to interpret that and what types of analysis and calculations might be done to address that issue.  I was hopeful it would have been dealt with months ago but that did not occur. “

Sen. McDougle pointed out that this is Virginia’s first time doing this and he would hesitate to base a bipartisan process on districts that have been historically partisan.  Co-chair Harris suggested that the Virginia statute does not give “unduly favor or disfavor” the highest priority but thought that past performance should be considered along with other criteria.  In response, Republican counsel Bartolomuci said the Virginia code does not require looking at prior elections and there is no definition of what “unduly or disfavor” mean.  “Certainly, you can look to past elections to make predictions about how a draft map will work in future elections.  I think it would be fair game for commissioners to look at how future elections are shaping up.  Obviously, we’re going to have an election next month which a lot of people think is going to be very close.”  He closed, “You can interpret as you will.  We think C1 would be legally satisfactory, but this is uncharted territory with no case law.” 

Co-Harris urged the Commission to “lift up their values because the courts aren’t giving us specific guidance and we as a Commission need to weigh in.”  Democratic counsel Crayton agreed, “This is a place for the Commission to give a first interpretation of this provision.  That’s OK.  There’s nothing inherently troublesome about this other than that the people of Virginia decided to adopt a new approach and this is your opportunity to give a first take on how that approach ought to be applied in practice.”  He continued, “This question is not new among political scientists and there are different ways of interpreting “undue advantage or disadvantage.”  He didn’t think that Virginia law meant competitive where each party would have a shot in each district.  He also suggested Democrats would have a different understanding than Republicans.  “I think we should hopefully all be able to agree that when a majority of the people of Virginia express a preference for a political party, the map should at least reflect a majority of seats for that party.” The Democratic counsels looked at all 34 of the public submissions.  “I think only about five of them have created five Republican districts and those are the five that are connected to in some fashion or another Congressman Davis’ map.”  He finished, “It’s going to be important to recognize that we’re going to have to find a place in the middle.  No state says there should be an equal number of seats.   I can see it if you take into account both competitiveness and political performance.”

Citizen commissioner Rick Harrell criticized Dr. Crayton’s opinion.  “He is bringing in proportional representation from the back door by saying you should recognize what the reality is right now with existing votes in different districts.”   Harrell continued, “Some people don’t want to believe there are Republicans in the state of Virginia and a number of them happen to live in the rural areas.  It’s just common sense when rural areas need more population to meet a target, you’ve got to take a few from an urban area.”

Sen. Stanley commented, “I hear Democratic counsel talk about basically ‘to the victor go the spoils’ since we won these elections recently then we should have proportionality.  Democrats forget the history that comes with Virginia in terms of the pendulum swinging back and forth.”  Stanley suggested, “Let’s give citizens a chance.  Take out the partisanship, take out the salamanders.  Republicans and Democrats have won statewide, and the Senate has swung three times.  Ultimately, we’re trying to get away from whoever is in power gets to draw the maps.  Citizens should get to pick, not based on party.  I think we are closer.  Let’s take what we’ve got and work around the edges.  Otherwise, we’re just naysaying ourselves into futility.”

Co-chair Harris agreed with Stanley but felt there were substantial adjustments that needed to be made. “It sounds good to remove partisanship. That’s what eight and a half million Virginians voted for, to have a fairer process. Nothing against the electeds but could have been different if it was all citizens that were trying to prepare more fair and balanced maps.”

Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) reminded the commissioners that they had spoken earlier about  no regression, particularly for minority districts, whether statewide or Congressional.  “Over the years, maps have been drawn that don’t consider everyone; people have been left out.  A lot of the hang up is because we want to dismiss all the history but that is not possible.  I don’t know what the next ten years will bring, but we should want to give every citizen opportunity, not leave anyone out of the equation.”  She also expressed concern that the citizen commissioners have been as political as the electeds.  “It is the personality and ideology of the individual that determines whether we go forward and what biases are brought to the table.”

After a break, citizen commissioner Abrenio speaking virtually, pointed out that they are not hearing strong statutory direction from either counsel.  “I suspect the legislature could not come to agreement. I see it as proportional.  It doesn’t make sense when the Democrats win the election to then turn into a Republican state. I could never vote for the C1 map.  I don’t want our work wasted but it is not a failure to send it to the Court if we can’t find a fair map.”  Sen. McDougle thanked Abrenio for being straight forward and without a quorum, it has been beneficial in using time to express our views.  “When we come back on Wednesday, we will have to come to consensus on what the language means as we go through other criteria.”

Co-chair Harris asked DLS attorney Meg Lamb if because there is no quorum today, could I suggest each map drawer try to resolve some of the citizen comments about Lynchburg, Henrico, Prince William County and the Dulles corridor. Would that be allowed so they can bring back different ideas for Wednesday?  Attorney Lamb said that wouldn’t be possible as it would still be conducting business;  Republican attorney Chris Bartolomucci suggested each map drawer could, on their own volition to be helpful come back with ideas to share.  Del. Simon recommended instead that “nothing stops us from sending an email to the co-chairs and staff asking for things for the next meeting.”  Lamb responded, “If you have something specific you want to see, let us know.”

Harris replied, “sounds like a plan.”

The meeting adjourned at 10:54 a.m.

LWV-VA Observer Corps –
Candy Butler, LWV-FX
Carolyn Caywood, LWV-SHR
Chris DeRosa, LWV-ARL
Peggy Layne, LWV-MC

 

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