SCoVA Posts Draft Maps and Invitation to Hearings
On December 8, the Supreme Court of Virginia (SCoVA) announced that the proposed maps prepared by the Court’s Special Masters Sean P. Trende and Bernard N. Grofman have been posted on the Court’s public website. The press release also encouraged the public to comment on the draft maps at public hearings which will be held virtually on December 15 and 17.
The three draft redistricting maps include a single map for the Virginia House of Delegates, a single map for the Senate of Virginia, and a single map for Virginia’s representatives to the United States House of Representatives. There are PDF versions and “interactive” versions which allow users to comment directly on the maps. The Special Masters’ written report which accompanied the maps indicated they “have worked together to develop any plan” and the maps “reflect a true join effort on our part.”
Their 53-page report further described their approach. “We carefully drew districts that met constitutional and statutory population requirements. In doing so, we minimized county and city splits, while respecting natural boundaries and communities of interest (“COIs”) to the extent possible. We attempted to draw compact districts, although equal population requirements and Virginia’s geography often conspired to limit our ability to do so.”
The report provides more specific details on their methodology and choices for location of Congressional, State Senate and House districts. They instituted “nesting” by carving Senate districts out of the U.S. House districts and then drew the House of Delegates districts out of Senate districts. “Overlapping jurisdictions helps ensure communities of interest that underlay the House of Delegates districts have multiple layers of representation.”
In addition, their report explained –
- “The Statutory Criteria make no mention of protecting incumbents. We therefore maintained ignorance about the residences of incumbents.” They plan on “maintaining that ignorance . . . unless otherwise instructed by the Court.”
- To avoid possible scrutiny and questions from the Supreme Court of the U.S., they drew districts without race as the predominant interest. They believe they have provided “maps that do at least as well or better as the current map in terms of creating districts where the minority community has a realistic opportunity to elect a candidate of choice.”
- They carefully reviewed the communities of interest submitted by Virginia’s residents to the Virginia Redistricting Commission. They also reviewed data from Representable, a nonprofit organization that allows individuals to draw their communities of interest and attempted to incorporate COIs where ever possible. They broadened the definition of COI to include “shared broadcast and print media, transport infrastructure and institutions such as schools and churches” which were part of a U.S. Supreme Court list. They also were “mindful of the Blue Ridge Mountains as an important geographic divider in Virginia’ history.” They acknowledged there may be other communities of interest of which they’re not aware and “look forward to receiving the commentary of this Court and of the public to help improve the map in this regard.”
- They felt by adhering to the statutory criteria, “We minimize the risk of any undue favoritism toward either party. It would be difficult to draw gerrymanders under these constraints had we wanted to.” Once the maps were drawn, they examined the political data in their totality using several different measures. “No single measure is perfect but all we have examined lead to similar conclusions that the maps we drew were neutrally drawn.” A footnote referred to the legal judgement as to whether any map satisfies the constitutional requirement not to “unduly favor or disfavor any political party” as one that must be made by SCoVA.
- They opted to retain the traditional numbering of the districts to facilitate public comment, but left open the possibility of renumbering the districts in a sensible manner.
In the December 8 press release, the Court also announced that two virtual public hearings will be held December 15 and 17 from 1 – 4 p.m. to receive public comment on the proposed plans.
No in-person public hearings are scheduled, but members of the public, including elected officials, are invited to attend the virtual hearings and provide live comments virtually. There will be an option just to view the hearings, but in order to offer public comment, participants must notify the Clerk of Court by sending an email at least 24 hours in advance to and indicating which of the dates they prefer. Further detailed instructions are on the press release and members of the public will be emailed instructions on what to expect and how to participate. The email should include the requestor’s name and email address, and where they reside in the Commonwealth.
The Court also encouraged the public to continue to submit written comments to and to comment on the maps proposed by the Special Masters directly on the interactive maps on the Court’s website. Written comments must be submitted by 1 p.m. on December 20, 2021 in order to be reviewed by the Court or its Special Masters.