Commission Stalled on Congressional District Maps!
The problem of “partisan fairness” was again front and center at the Virginia Redistricting Commission meeting on Wednesday, October 20. After Monday’s meeting where lack of a quorum prevented conducting business and voting, the agenda provided time for additional public comments and then turned to a presentation of Congressional district maps.
Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) began by offering map #349 submitted by Katherine Kline, a member of the public. “I like the way it configured Northern Virginia and it did get us close to what Senator Barker and others feel is a fair outcome.” There were concerns, however, that it had been called a Democratic gerrymander. This was followed by the revised C1 maps from the Democratic (C1-B) and Republican map drawers (C1-A). The co-chairs had asked them to consider public comments and have another try at the maps.
As each team provided the data on the partisan make-up of the districts, the problem of comparing “apples to apples” was frequently raised and the “math” of the opposing party was frequently challenged. There were several unsuccessful attempts by Sen. George Barker (D-Alexandria) to negotiate with numbers that he had run. Sen. Barker also reminded the commissioners that there have been many changes in Virginia’s maps over the last decade and the districts aren’t locked in for the next decade. The definition of “fair” was clearly in the eye of the beholder.
The map drawers then presented their newest congressional district maps – the Democratic team’s B5 (#423) and the Republican team’s A5 (#422). They had been directed by the co-chairs to produce the “fairest maps.” Democratic team Ken Strasma and Zach Coomes said that they used map #315 which had been submitted by citizen Joel Galloway as their “footprint.” Strasma said because there was no clear consensus about ‘partisan fairness’ they analyzed election results from 2012-2018 in which Virginia swung back and forth in different years.” They calculated if a congressional district is likely to be stronger or weaker compared to any year. They determined 50.5% was the ‘tipping point’. They explained their analyses through graphs and shared a memorandum. Dr. Kareem Crayton said that map B5 is “politically fair, slightly higher for Democrats than Republicans, but only slightly higher.”
Republican team map drawer John Morgan followed with map A5 (#422) which he said was based on a map Sen. McDougle submitted earlier. Sen. Simon suggested it “is essentially the Tom Davis map [Jason Torshinsky/National Republican Redistricting Trust] that was submitted earlier but that was denied by Republican attorney Bryan Tyson.
Citizen commissioner Sean Kumar then pointed out, “We have 30 minutes left today and a hearing scheduled Friday with no maps to really look at. We’re seeing 5-5-1 maps that probably aren’t going to pass and 5-4-2 maps that probably aren’t going to pass. We still don’t have any consensus as to what kind of data we should be using to assess the makeup of those maps. We need to do that before we continue.”
Motions were made and votes taken on 5-5-1 and 5-4-2 maps and they both failed along partisan lines. It then became clearer that the Commission wouldn’t be able to reach consensus by the public hearing scheduled for Friday, October 22. It was also less hopeful that their next meeting on Monday, October 25 would clear the way for them to submit a Congressional district map to the General Assembly. Comments from individual commissioners included:
- “I’m not a quitter. We owe it to the people of the Commonwealth to fight this out until the end.”
- “The structure of this Commission made building consensus almost impossible.”
- “Let’s come back after the election to see if it’s skewed one way or the other.”
- “The bureaucracy and unfortunate partisanship of the Commission wins, and we’re done.”
- “I don’t see the point of going round and round. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expecting different outcomes.”
- “We can’t agree, but the maps are already much better than the maps I’ve seen before.”
- “Even though the Amendment is deeply flawed, we’ll see what the Court does.”
In the end, the public hearing scheduled for Friday, October 22 and the Monday, October 25 Commission meeting were canceled. The Commission, however, left the door open should two commissioners (one Democrat and one Republican) be able to work together to resolve the “partisan fairness” issue. Del. Simon made a motion to adjourn to reconvene upon the joint call of the two-co-chairs and the motion passed unanimously. If there should be a successful bi-partisan resolution of how to “fairly” allocate the number of congressional districts by party, another Commission meeting will be called, and public hearing scheduled.
PUBLIC COMMENTS AND MORE COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE COMMISSION MEETING FOLLOW –
Public Comments –
Liz White, Executive Director of OneVirginia2021, spoke in-person, commenting that their membership is obviously disappointed by the recent gridlock the Commission has faced. It now seems clear that the state legislative maps will ultimately be drawn by the Supreme Court of Virginia (SCoVA). “We need to ensure the court and the two special masters will have full access to all of the public input that has been collected over the past ten months, including “hundreds if not thousands of emails, close to 1000 submissions through the public comment Google form, hours of in-person and virtual testimony, over 100 citizen drawn maps, and over 1500 comments left on those maps. It should be available in a way that is user-friendly. The Justices and special masters have not been at the public hearings, and they are counting on the Commission and staff to provide the information that will allow them to recognize and address communities of interest and honor their needs. This Commission has consistently listened to the public and have made specific changes to the drafts of their district maps based on these comments. We now need to ensure that all citizen comments are conveyed to the courts so that they can do the same.”
Ethan Ableman, speaking virtually, mentioned he has spent a lot of time reviewing citizen comments particularly about the central Virginia area. He shared his screen to show Congressional district map #349 by Katherine Kline. He pointed out that it’s a good example of a configuration with a central 7th District. “The 6th district now doesn’t have to include Charlottesville and can extend instead to Winchester and the surrounding counties. The 5th District meanwhile can retract its tendrils that stretch into the Richmond suburbs and instead take Lynchburg and the surrounding areas in the western part of the state. As a bonus for those of you who care about the political balance of the 7th district, it would remain competitive. I propose that the Commission directly debate whether it would like to place the 7th District in this configuration. Please consider this proposal that citizen commenters and citizen map drawers overwhelmingly support.”
Joel Galloway, the second virtual commenter, echoed Ableman’s point that there should be a competitive district in central Virginia. “I would argue our communities of interest belong together because the current map splits Henrico three ways.” He also agreed that the Commission should consider more public maps. “If we look at public maps and comments, you can see that a vast majority do believe that there should be a competitive district in central Virginia.”
Richard Zimmerman was the final person to testify online, and he called for compact districts in contiguous shapes without floating “fingerlings.” He spoke about considering the numbers of people in settlements, or SMAs, rather than locality boundaries which cannot be a preponderance factor in redistricting. “In general, to allow for the greatest good for the greatest number, keep the top 80% that live in localities over 40,000 and all incorporated towns undivided.”
Following public comment, Delegate Simon raised a map submitted by a citizen, Katherine Kline, map # 349, and asked for data tables for that map. It was also shared during the earlier public comments by Ethan Ableman. Senator McDougle challenged that map 349 was a Democrat gerrymander (according to one comment on the map); however, Simon disagreed.
Co-chair Babichenko then directed the Commissioners’ attention to the revised draft maps for Congressional districts, as prepared by the Democratic and Republican map drawers. She explained that the co-chairs asked the map drawers to take another stab at the maps, taking into account public comments.
Republican map drawer John Morgan began describing a newly proposed congressional district map, C1-A. He described where changes were made from the original C1 map. Responding to Co-chair Harris’ request, Morgan presented minority and partisan data as follows: CD A5 map would yield 5 districts strongly Democratic, 5 districts strong Republican, and 1 competitive district (CD2). CD 11 would be majority-minority (55% minority); CDs 8 and 10 would have minority populations of 46-48%, while CD2 would have a 38% minority population.
Democratic map drawers Ken Strasma and Zach Coomes then began discussing the revised C1-B map. CDs 2, 3 and 4 are mostly unchanged from earlier map C1. Strasma said the majority-minority distribution on this map had not changed from the previous C1 map: CDs 8 and 10 remain “opportunity districts.” Five districts would be strong Democratic, four would be solidly Republican, with two swing districts, CD2 and CD7. Democratic counsel Dr. Kareem Crayton explained that there was “a lot of balancing to be done” because the two map drawers were using different versions of CD3 and CD4. “Different approaches, but of no political significance.” In response to questions and criticisms from Senator McDougle, Crayton responded that there are “always choices to be made” and “competing criticisms.” “We made a choice that we think reflects public comment. It may not be your choice, we acknowledge that.”
Strasma then described the Republican-Democratic leans of the districts in the C1 and C1-B maps. He explained that his team analyzed almost all the maps using data for two major party candidates from 2012-2018 statewide races. They did not consider 3rd party or write-in candidates because those votes “could skew the results” from year to year. By analyzing the “relative strength of each major party,” we are comparing “apples to apples.” In map C1-B, there were some slight changes in the partisan “look” of some districts. CD1 went from 48.8% Democratic and 55.15% Republican to 51.3% Democratic and 48.7% Republican. CD2 went from 49.87% Republican to 49.13% Republican on the revised C1-B map.
Sen. McDougle argued that this was not the “best math for us to do,” referring to the Democratic team’s decision to ignore 3rd party or write-in candidates. Strasma said his team could generate new numbers using the excluded votes, but that it would probably take a day to calculate.
Crayton continued the explanation that this measure “gets the relative strength of each major party.” This relative strength “ultimately drives the outcome.” “It’s best to look at the two major parties,” he said.
Republican citizen commissioner Rick Harrell returned to the map, saying he wanted to “make one point about honesty.” He argued that some public comments on maps were disingenuous, that “politics was the only reason” for their comments. He said he “can’t stand listening to these spurious arguments that are just contrived.” Abrenio reflected about Harrell’s earlier comments about “impugning character,” saying to Harrell that his statement that every public comment was dishonest was “exactly what you’ve been criticizing. Just because you don’t like a comment, doesn’t mean it’s dishonest. The public has done its best to put comments in there. I just want to speak for them.”
Co-chair Babichenko asked the map drawers to present their newest maps: the Democratic team’s map B5 # 423 and the Republican team’s map A5 #422.
Strasma explained their (Democratic) team’s approach to this map. He said that the co-chairs directed them to produce the “fairest maps”. There was no clear consensus at the last meeting about “partisan fairness,” he said. He shared some graphs to explain their analyses, using election results from 2012-2018. “Virginia swings back and forth in different years.” Although we can’t say “how well candidates will do,” we can calculate if a CD is likely to be stronger or weaker compared to any year. Their calculations took the percent of votes a candidate got, offset (or added to) by the statewide election average return. The graphs indicated “likely statewide outcome,” not a prediction about which candidate would win that race. He noted that with eleven Congressional districts, it wouldn’t be possible to get a “perfect balance.” They determined that 50.5% was the “tipping point.” Their analysis found the Davis map to have the highest tipping point; the Democrats would have to win 54.5% of the votes to carry the majority of the eleven Congressional districts. The B5 map, which includes changes in response to citizen comments, has a lower tipping point, making it easier for Democrats to win a majority of the 11 seats. It’s not the most Democratic-leaning map. He reiterated that the direction to them was to come up with the “fairest map.” “At 50.5%, we’ve done that.” Crayton referenced a memo from their team that was circulated.
After some questions and discussion by Commissioners, Zach Coomes then began highlighting features of (Democratic) map B5. This map preserved CDs 3 and 4 as directed by the Commission, then used map # 315, which was submitted by citizen Joel Galloway, as their “footprint.” They considered and responded to public comment and adjusted lines to balance population. Crayton pointed out that their team did not know Mr. Galloway and had not met him or seen him “until today” (when Galloway spoke virtually during the public comment period). This map, he said, meets the tipping point of 50.5% compared to the original #315 map which had a tipping point of 51.5%. It’s “politically fair, slightly higher for Democrats than Republicans, but only slightly higher.” Regarding partisan lean, 5 districts are strong Democrat, 4 are strong Republican, and 2 (CD7 and CD 2) are “leaning” Democrat, as in the C1-B map discussed earlier. He finished by saying that his team brought their observations to the Commission “in the form of a map that is not driven by partisanship.”
Some of the Commissioners asked questions and offered criticisms of different parts of the map, including splitting counties, districts that cross over the mountains, effects of “prison numbers”, and moving cities and COIs into different districts.
At one point, Senator Stanley (R), describing himself as a “little country boy here in the corner”, complained about having to look at so many maps. He suggested that this may be an “exercise in futility” and that the map drawers and attorneys “need to step out of it, and we need to step into it.”
Sen. Barker pointed out that “ever since 1980, we’ve shifted congressional districts where I live every ten years, and this would shift us again in this particular map. “The other thing that is important is we need to look at from a political standpoint, how many districts are Democratic, how many are Republican and how many are toss-up districts. If we’re going to get something people from both parties can sign on to, I don’t think the 5-5-1 will work and something that guarantees a majority of Democrats won’t work either. We could have 5-4-2 with 2 legitimate tossups in Districts 2 and 7. District 2 is a legitimate toss-up with 50.0 something whereas if we were to go in that direction with District 7, we would need to get it down from 52.47% to 50%. That way if Democrats were to win both the toss-ups and the other five, they would have a 7-4. On the other hand, if the Republicans win those two seats, which they readily could, given the dynamics right now, both at the national and state level, it’s certainly possible we would end up with a 6-5 Republican delegation.
Sen. Barker continued “What I would also say is don’t assume that even if you had that map that the other nine districts are going to be locked in for the next decade. If you look at the last two decades, we’ve had a lot of districts that flipped from one party to the other. The 5th was regarded as the more swing district, and it was held by an individual who first won the race as a Democrat; then later ran as in independent and won again; then ran as a Republican and won again; and then ran as a Republican and lost to a Democrat. It’s now regarded as more Republican. There’s a lot that can happen during a decade.”
Sen. McDougle asked the Democratic map drawing team when they are listing a district as “strong Democratic,” what makes something “lean” or be “strong.” Ken Strasma responded the cut off is 45% to 55 % is considered “lean” range and below 45% or above 55% is “strong.”
Sen. McDougle then questioned Sen. Barker’s figures that, historically over the years, “53.5% of the vote on a statewide basis went to Democrats and 46.5% of the vote went to Republicans.” Sen. Barker explained, “Out of the nine races of the 13 that occurred the last decade, we have nine of them were we have legitimate data we can use but we’re not incorporating the U.S. Senate races in 2012 and 2014. Two were in 2020, where we don’t have the ability to allocate the absentee votes which were huge.”
Sen. McDougle, just checking Barker’s numbers, “I took .535 and multiplied it by 11 and it came out at 5.8 and I took .465, multiplied it by 11 and came out to 5.1.” If I take your numbers and analysis, I come out with five seats that would be Democratic and five seats that would be Republican and then one that would lean Democratic. How does that not come up with your math?” Sen. Barker replied, “that certainly is an option that could be considered but what I think makes more sense is to do is five four and two.” Sen. McDougle responded, “I understand that you would like the option that would add a Democratic seat.” Sen. Barker countered, “It’s an extra seat where a Democrat could compete. If there is instead a 5-4 split, 55% of the seats would be Democratic and 45% Republican.”
Del. Adams questioned Dr. Crayton’s explanation that the map was presented as response to the direction of the Commission. “It was abundantly clear at the last meeting that there was no further direction from the Commission. I’m not saying we can’t consider this map as we continue to try to find a resolution, but to follow up on Sen. Stanley’s point, we’re certainly moving away from consensus to something brand new. It appears political fairness may be the only criteria driving this map. “
Co-chair Babichenko suggested, “Why don’t we look at John’s map, ask some questions and then we can decide how we’re going to proceed. We have about 45 minutes left as we’re scheduled until 11 a.m. Republican team map drawer John Morgan then briefed the commissioners on the highlights of map A5, and legal counsel Bryan Tyson followed with additional data. They had also looked at publicly available plans and incorporated those to try to make something work for the Commission to consider moving forward.
There were questions from Sen. Barker about how the Republican election data was compiled when considering “toss up” districts and whether they were comparing “apples to apples.” Sen. Barker’s data did not include the 2018 U.S. Senate race when Tim Kaine was running against Corey Stewart which he felt was an “outlier” of all the election results from the last decade. There were also discussions of where districts and precincts were split to equalize population. Sen. McDougle confirmed that Norfolk is kept whole. Senator Locke asked through the “Chat” for John Morgan to explain in more detail the Williamsburg, James City County area.
John Morgan explained that this is based on the map Sen. McDougle submitted earlier. Del. Simon commented, “I see now, this is essentially the Davis map that was submitted earlier.” Morgan responded, “I did not look at the Tom Davis map and drawing this, I took, Sen. McDougle’s submitted map.”
Citizen commissioner James Abrenio asked, “Since you mentioned you didn’t use the Tom Davis map, have you ever reviewed that map or are you aware of the organization that helped him produced that map and how much relationship do you have with them?” Republican attorney Bryan Tyson responded, “I just want to emphasize again if we’re going to relitigate this, this map was one of several dozen citizen maps that we reviewed in preparing C1. I had no idea that the National Republican Redistricting Trust was involved with the design of that map. Mr. Davis told me he was involved in trying to help Mr. Torchinsky upload a map. There is not any collusion going on here. We did not go back and look at that map in preparing this one yesterday evening.” Abrenio said “as an average person it just looks odd to me how similar those are.”
Kumar agreed but I think we’re kind of beyond that point. “We have 30 minutes left today and a hearing scheduled Friday with no maps to really look at. We’re seeing 5-5-1 maps that probably aren’t going to pass. We’re seeing 5-4-2 maps that probably aren’t going to pass. We still don’t have any consensus as to what kind of data we should be using to assess the makeup of those maps.” He apologized for missing the meeting last week – “I was on army orders.” “In just hearing us today, we’re spinning our wheels. I mean there’s good intentions on both sides, but it doesn’t change the fact of the process of where we are and the obstacles, we’ve been working with in this process with the winding down clock that we have.”
Co-chair Babichenko asked for comments before taking a 15-minute break.
Del. Simon mentioned map #349 and that a commenter had pointed out it had been posted by David Wasserman. “I didn’t know that when I made the suggestion and if that makes it a deal breaker for anybody, we don’t need to spend a lot of time on it. However, I do like the way it configures Northern Virginia, and “it did get us really close to where I think Senator Barker and I and some other folks think is a fair outcome. I really do believe it’s similar to the ‘tipping point’ analysis that Dr. Crayton explained. “I think we could get to a fair outcome if we accept the three Northern Virginia districts, the two voting rights districts, those are going to be mostly considered safe Democratic districts. It would be hard without doing some serious reverse gerrymandering to not do that. I think you get four pretty safely Republican districts by drawing compact, contiguous, maintaining ‘community of interest’ and following the rest of our criteria.”
Del. Simon continued, “I think the question we have is what we do with the other two? If we make one of them a toss-up district and let one of them be a fairly safe Republican district. I agree with Senator Barker. If during the high point of Democratic performance, you couldn’t muster more than 46% that feels a pretty safe, at least for the foreseeable future, Republican district to me. If you could get to a place and I think I speak for myself and other folks, the General Assembly will be willing to go if you guys are five, four, and two statistically insignificant. So, depending on how things are going one side or the other ends up with the majority of the congressional population, that’s something I could probably support moving on to the General Assembly.”
“I think that the map that we heard about earlier #349 out of all the other citizens submitted maps gets us closest to that as a starting point. It’s about 50.05% and easily get down to 50/50 maybe 51. I understand Mr. Kumar’s concerns that we’re spinning our wheels, but I think it’s a way of sort of splitting the baby. If my theory about what’s happening in Virginia is right it will have one outcome. If your theory is right and if we’re both a little right, it’s going to be very close. It’ll go back and forth 6-5, 6-5 depending on where things are. #349 gets us very close to that breakdown.”
Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) said, “It’s right to have some discussion as to where we should go. At the very least should be able to discuss where we could have some consensus. Let’s not decide we’re at a stalemate right now on Congressional maps before having a discussion about where we can reach some consensus.”
Citizen commissioner Jose Feliciano agreed with Senator Locke. “I think we were too quick to quit with the state maps but that’s done. It’s not over until the young lady sings or starts singing so we have until midnight Monday, I believe, and, whatever it takes I think we should fight it out until the end.” Babichenko also suggested the option of an additional 14 days for the congressional maps.
Citizen commissioner Kumar said he was not suggesting they should give up but thought they need to be realistic. “It comes down to partisanship in politics and the number of safe districts for each party. Before we adjourn today with the little bit of time we have, I think it would be helpful to know what data or what elections we are going to use to evaluate the maps. If anything, other than a 5-5-1 or more for Republicans is going to be a nonstarter we might as well do that right now before we continue.
Sen. McDougle mentioned that he pulled up #349 that Del. Simon referenced and there were apparently some additional comments this morning by Mr. Jain who I think said he was a Democrat on one of his previous comments because he’s spoken to us frequently. He said that the map that Delegate Simon likes gives Democrats a real chance to win eight of the 11 seats. “I don’t know where he’s pulling his math from, but we need to have a conversation because I have a view of what ‘unduly favor’ or ‘disfavor’ means, and I think maybe we don’t all have this same view. “
Sen. Barker explained that he ran the numbers on #349 and “We ought to say if we’re going to deal with that map or some other map, District 1 and 7 should be basically as close to 50/50 as we can possibly get so neither party has a clear advantage in that situation. District 1 should not be something that is lean Republican where Democrats could win that if there were a year like happened in 2018.” Del. Simon added, “This is a starting place. I wasn’t trying to sneak in a district just because the numbers are already within a percentage point. It seems like a place where we could get there if we could get some consensus that’s where we want to land.”
Co-chair Babichenko called for a 5–10-minute break. “I want to hear from commissioners where they see this going, whether we can have any consensus on the number. I agree with Mr. Kumar that ‘the numbers are what they are’ and if we can’t agree on that then we’re kind of dead in the water. Let’s take a few moments and try to come up with what we are most of us comfortable with moving forward. We could theoretically, against everyone’s better judgement, probably schedule other meetings. It doesn’t have to be all of two weeks. It could be a few more days after things are considered on Monday. Be ready to come back and share your thoughts today.”
When the meeting resumed at 11 a.m. citizen commissioner Feliciano spoke first, “I say we have the public comments on Friday on the maps that we looked at today and when we come back on Monday do what we do. We’ve got till 11:59 in my opinion to see where we go. DLS Attorney Meg Lamb pointed out they would need time to draft the bill so ideally, they would finish around 1 or 2 p.m. Citizen commissioner Kumar suggested they could stick to the end of day Monday and submit the map on Tuesday using the 14-day extension. Del. Simon pointed out the downside of using the 14-day extension is that they only get one shot at the map. “If we stick to the Monday deadline, we could have another chance if the General Assembly says, ‘it’s really close.’” Feliciano agreed with Simon, “I prefer to duke it out and have something by noon on Monday.”
Del. Simon also preferred focusing the public’s attention down to “a couple, three or four maps so that we’re getting more useful feedback, similar to the C1 map. I like the #349 map. B5 also has real possibilities. My vote hasn’t changed on the A5 map.”
Kumar said, “for public openness, if we want to meet Monday, we should have the public hearing on Friday. When we meet Monday, we can take public comments into consideration.”
Del. Adams commented, “To Del. Simon’s point to narrow the maps, I would suggest we start with the one ‘consensus’ map and then the two revisions that have been walked through today. “
Citizen commissioner Abrenio said “I feel like I’m always a ‘Debbie downer’ here. We were having a productive discussion about numbers, and competitive districts versus Democratic leaning and Republic leaning. That’s the elephant in the room. We can keep talking about different versions of maps and we’re just keep going back and forth volleying the ball. It’s a game. That’s essentially what we’re doing at this point.”
Del. Simon reminded the commissioners that the “C” on the maps does not stand for “consensus” but “combined.” “If we’re only looking at the “C” maps and revisions, then there’s no point in continuing on today.”
Sen. McDougle agreed, “I don’t think we’ve come to a consensus on any map yet. Coming up with a map that does not create the potential ability for Democrats to win seven seats is a nonstarter for Sen. Baker and Del. Simon. When I put my glasses on and when the Supreme Court looks at the plain meaning of the language, ‘unduly favor’ means more than is justified to one or another. If we’re worried about historic numbers, it’s less than two weeks from the election. We can have the public comments and come back after that. If the election is pretty much 50/50, then the districts should be in the 5-5-1 range. If it’s skewed one way or the other, we can continue the conversation. I understand we’d want a second bite of the apple, but I think our objective at this point is to have an apple.”
Co-chair Babichenko asked if there were any issues with the “C” s and the A and the B maps. Those are the ones we’ve talked about, but people certainly are free to look at other things and bring them up during the public comment. What did you like, what did you not like, and then we’ll see where we are at that point.
Citizen commissioner Kumar suggested, “The public will comment on what they want. If we meet again Monday, I’m open to anything if the numbers are fair and meet criteria. If there’s an awesome map, I’m open to that as long as it’s getting us to the right direction.”
DLS Attorney Lamb apologized but advised that the Commission really is going to need to settle on the partisan split decision instead of leaving that until Monday.
Speaking for himself, Del. Simon said “I don’t see myself getting to a place where I could go with a map that secures five safely Democratic seats. More competitive seats are better. I think it’s frankly a big concession to make those two seats 50/50. I can’t say who will vote with me, but my position is that we need to make it as fair as possible which I view as 5-4-2.” Co-chair Harris said at some point we need definitive action and said if that was a motion, she would second it. Sen. McDougle then made a substitute motion for a 5-5-1 map which was seconded by Del. Adams. Both motions failed with 8-8 votes.
Co-chair Harris commented, “I think, again, we go back to the structure of this Commission that made building consensus nearly impossible. I would say, we tried, and it was a first for the Commonwealth of Virginia, but this isn’t working. The bureaucracy and unfortunate partisanship of the structure of the Commission wins and we’re done. We can prepare materials for the Supreme Court. We could hear more citizen comment, but on Monday if we still vote 8-8, we get nowhere. I’d rather apologize to the citizens. We tried. I don’t see the point of going round and round. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect different outcomes. Several commissioners said, ‘I’m not a quitter.’ I’m not a quitter either but at some point, banging your head up on a wall and expecting something good to come of it is not worth it.”
Sen. Locke said, “Once again, I’m disappointed in the outcomes of these votes because it clearly shows partisanship. That was not my hope for this Commission when I advocated for it, when I supported the constitutional amendment. So, despite my disappointment, I must agree with Co-chair Harris.
Sen. Barker said “There are possibilities as it relates to ending up with a map that is somewhere between 5-4-2 and 5-5-1. I would suggest that we have both of those issues on the table for us on Monday and that we challenge ourselves individually and collectively to try to come up with alternatives to 5-5-1 and 5-4-2 because I think we can reach agreement on something.” Citizen commissioner Feliciano added, “I’m not a quitter. We owe it to the people of the Commonwealth to fight this out until the end. I propose we have the comments as discussed and we show up here Monday, but before we come Monday, each and every one of us look in the mirror and ask, ‘Why am I doing this and why am I here?’”
DLS’ Meg Lamb reminded the commissioners that to have six out of eight votes, everyone needed to plan to be there. Co-chair Babichenko wouldn’t be able to attend. Citizen commissioner Kumar said he could come Monday but he doesn’t see anything today that it will make sense. “It’s not about quitting. I didn’t even feel good about voting for 5-4-2 because that’s partisan. I’m disappointed. I came into this process with very high hopes, and I would say somewhat low expectations. Even though the Amendment is deeply flawed, we’ll see what the Court does. I don’t have a lot of hope there’s going to be some miracle that makes Monday worthwhile though if we see that kind of movement I will be here if needed.”
Del. Adams weighed in, “The maps we have worked through are clearly compact and contiguous. When we say the Commission has failed, we are the Commission. I take accountability for my vote and for the perspective that I bring. I think the work that’s been done has been productive in a lot of ways and we shouldn’t disparage the entire process. We all have our own political perspective.”
Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) – “Joe was saying just a few moments ago about looking in the mirror, but we also need to look at the population growth in this Commonwealth and what you consider fair. There’s enough blame to go around on both sides of the aisle. I had hoped the Congressional maps would be easier, but we’re not much further than the House and Senate. The citizens decided to move in this direction because of what they’ve looked at over the years. I’m hoping that we want to leave a legacy that said there was a way.”
Citizen commissioner Abrenio saw “with the Amendment there were compromises made about the structure, but this has given citizens a voice. The feedback has been useful. I don’t see to go to the Supreme Court as a failure. Republican citizen Rick Harrell mentioned during the break that he spoke briefly with three other people and said something similar. “I came with high hopes. Even though we can’t agree, the maps are much better than the maps I’ve seen before. Senator Barker has also said a number of things I can agree with and respect. It’s not that difficult to ‘split the baby’ and maybe come up with several districts that are very close. If we take a stand, we’re not going to get past 8-8.”
Co-chair Babichenko summarized, “There are some people who want to keep working and there are some people who think that it’s not going to be a good effort to come down here on Monday. Is there a way or would everybody be amenable to have public comment on Friday, but we do not schedule to come back on another meeting unless we let the 14 days kick in and a Democrat and a Republican both come forward and have a proposal to submit? If Senator Barker finds someone that likes something also on the other side, they can bring it to the co-chairs attention and then we can call a meeting for us to all come and consider it. I don’t think we make a lot of movement when we’re sitting at these meetings talking in circles.
Kumar voiced his support. “If there are people, one person on each side that are willing and able to carry the ball forward, then perhaps it even happens by Monday but more likely something within our 14 days. Senator Barker said he’d be happy to work with anybody on the Republican side. There are options we could look at. Instead of two districts being 50/50, perhaps they could be 52/48 or 53/47 with one Republican and one Democrat.”
Citizen commissioner Kumar asked about the transparency if commission members meet offline to create a proposal. Co-chair Babichenko responded, “This is not the best choice, maybe the 8th best choice.” DLS’ Meg Lamb suggested they not have a public hearing on Friday if we’re going to be working on a map in the next two weeks and citizens must have an opportunity to comment on any proposal before a vote.”
Del. Simon made a motion to adjourn to reconvene upon the joint call of the two co-chairs and it was seconded. The motion passed unanimously, and the meeting ended.