We Were There! Citizens Selected for Redistricting Commission

As members of the Virginia LWV, we eagerly anticipated the opportunity to “be present” as the Redistricting Commission Selection Committee met January 6 to select eight citizen members for the new Virginia Redistricting Commission.  With the assistance of the Virginia Division of Legislative Services (DLS), the five retired judges on the Selection Committee were able to Zoom from their homes

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Redistricting Commission Picks Two Women as Co-Chairs

The new bi-partisan Virginia Redistricting Commission held its first meeting January 21, and promptly agreed to elect its two women citizen members, one from each party’s contingent, to serve as co-chairs.

The constitutional amendment that was approved in November had specified that a citizen member be elected as chair. But after the members introduced themselves, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover,  moved that a co-chair be nominated from each party, and Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, who drafted the original version of the amendment, seconded his motion. After Division of Legislative Services staff advised a citizen member that the commission could do that, the commission voted unanimously to elect Greta Harris, a Democratic member from Richmond, and Mackenzie Babichenko, a Republican member from Mechanicsville, as co-chairs. The commission agreed that the co-chairs would alternate leadership of the commission’s meetings, and work together with the DLS staff to prepare future agendas. Harris, 69, is CEO of the non-profit Better Housing Coalition; Babichenko, 39, is an assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Hanover County.

Meg Lamb, an attorney for DLS, reported that it was not clear when the Commonwealth would receive the final U.S. Census data that would enable it to complete its work. Barker said a member of President Biden’s transition team had recently contacted him to discuss the situation because Virginia—and New Jersey—normally would have to redraw their maps this year for legislative elections. Barker said the Virginia Department of Elections had said it could hold primaries for statewide races in June and as late as August 24 for the House of Delegates and still meet statutory deadlines for elections.

But Barker and Newman suggested that in the meantime the commission could begin its work using preliminary data. Barker said population shifts in the state had not been as dramatic as in the recent past. There has been some population growth in the northern part of the state and around Fredericksburg, he noted, with a loss of population in the South. By March, the nationwide reapportionment of congressional seats is expected to be completed, determining how many congressional districts Virginia will have.

Some of the citizen members requested additional guidance regarding transparency requirements and redistricting in general. Lamb said they would all receive copies of the so-called National Conference of State Legislatures “Red Book” on redistricting. (The book is available for purchase by the public through the NCSL website. )

The DLS staff explained that the commission would be able to hire attorneys and consultants, as necessary, to help with its work. It was noted that before the constitutional amendment passed, the General Assembly conducted a procurement and chose the software package Citygate GIS to support its work. Lamb said DLS could further explore other packages that might be publicly available. A number of questions regarding prospective timetables and process will be taken up at future meetings.

At the opening of the meeting, the members introduced themselves. Several of the citizens expressed their “excitement” over being involved. Most said they had spent most of their lives in the state, some residing in different regions over their lifetimes. Following the appointment of the eight citizen members on January 6, concerns were raised about two of the appointees over campaign contributions and comments published on social media. Those issues, however, were not revisited by the commission members at their meeting.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, acknowledged that he had opposed the constitutional amendment, but said he was “committed to doing our best to make it work.” He said he hoped his concerns would turn out to be wrong. Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, did not comment on her vote against the amendment, but noted that she was an ordained minister, and that she might “pause for a prayer” if she felt the commission would benefit.

A handful of Virginia residents had indicated in advance of the meeting that they wanted to speak, and they were allotted up to two minutes each. One, Suzanne Chambers, a member of NAACP branch 7045, described how Amherst County, where she lived, had been negatively impacted by gerrymandering, Jeff Jacobs of Herndon expressed concern that his fast-growing area was not represented on the commission. He and Gary Page of Farmville raised questions related to software and citizen input. Another member of the public who had trouble using the Zoom platform was asked to submit her comments in writing instead.

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-VA, Falls Church

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Redistricting Commission Sets First Meeting for January 21

The new Virginia Redistricting Commission will hold its first meeting at 5 p.m. on Thursday January 21. The main order of business will be to elect a chair from among the eight citizen members of the 16-member commission. The commission will also get an update on the expected delivery of the census data they will need to complete their job.

Information on the meeting is available by clicking here. To join the meeting, click here. To register to speak at the meeting, click here.   

The Division of Legislative Services will close registration for public comment at 10 a.m. on January 21. Members of the public who wish to comment on an agenda item may also do so by sending an email to /.  Public comments will be posted on the division’s website. 

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-VA, Falls Church

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Redistricting Commission Citizen Members

Here are further details about the eight citizens who were appointed to the Virginia Redistricting Commission on January 6, 2021. The applications can be reviewed in their entirety by clicking here. Excerpts from letters of recommendation may come from more than one letter. The regions are as defined by the Division of Legislative Services in categorizing the more than 1,200

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Eight Citizens Named to Virginia’s New Redistricting Commission

Eight citizens were chosen by a panel of retired Virginia Circuit Court judges on January 6 to fill out the membership of the new bipartisan redistricting commission created by the constitutional amendment that voters passed on their November ballots.

In a Zoomed meeting that concluded just before a mob stormed Capitol Hill, the judges selected the members from a list of 60-some names proposed by the General Assembly’s four party leaders. More than 1,200 Virginians submitted applications during the month-long filing window and each leader, as required, put forth at least 16 names. From each of those four lists, the judges worked to develop consensus on two appointments. For a detailed report on the meeting, click here. 

The judges repeatedly commented on the “impressive” and brilliant” list of applicants from which they had to choose. They also worked to appoint a slate that met statutory requirements for attention to geographic, gender and racial diversity.

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Why Redistricting Matters

“Gerrymandering” is a method of distorting representative democracy by allowing officials to select their voters rather than voters to elect their officials. When done for purposes of racial discrimination or to ensure the dominance of one political party, gerrymandering runs counter to equal voting rights for all eligible voters. Every ten years, after receiving updated U.S. Census results, the Virginia

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Redistricting

  The Constitutional Amendment Here is the text of the amendment as passed.  [Proposed new language is underlined. Deleted old language is stricken.] Amend Section 6 of Article II of the Constitution of Virginia and amend the Constitution of Virginia by adding in Article II a section numbered 6-A as follows: ARTICLE II FRANCHISE AND OFFICERS Section 6. Apportionment. Members of

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Redistricting in Virginia

The New Bipartisan Redistricting Commission On November 3, 2020, Virginia voters approved a new amendment to the State Constitution that will change the way the Commonwealth does its biennial redistricting. The League of Women Voters of Virginia supported the amendment as a positive reform designed to bring to an end partisan gerrymandering.   The amendment created a new 16-member, bipartisan

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Redistricting Commission Overview

Redistricting Commission On November 3, 2020, Virginia voters passed a Constitutional Amendment establishing a Redistricting Commission of citizens and legislators, led by a citizen chair. This Redistricting Commission will draw Virginia’s election district maps instead of the full General Assembly. This commission will be bipartisan. At least one study of redistricting outcomes in all 50 states has found that “both

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Redistricting FAQ

Why LWV-VA Supports Constitutional Amendment S.J. 18 to End Partisan Gerrymandering 

What is independent redistricting and why is it needed? Redistricting is the process of drawing maps to determine election districts for members of Congress and the state legislature. In many states, the legislature wields the power to draw these maps. When one party controls this process, it can rig the maps to stay in power by choosing the electorate in each district (“gerrymandering”). 

Gerrymandering weakens voters’ voices. It carves up communities, removes competition, increases polarization, and creates gridlock. Redistricting works better when voters get more of a say. 

Why Virginia needs a Constitutional Amendment now for fair redistricting. Virginia’s election maps are gerrymandered. Virginia’s constitution gives only legislators the power to draw the election maps. Only a constitutional amendment can change the constitution and let citizens serve on a redistricting commission. A mere law (legislation) cannot amend the constitution. 

Last year, after extensive negotiation, Virginia’s legislature passed a constitutional amendment (“CA”) to establish a better way: a commission of 8 legislators and 8 citizens, with a citizen chair. 

Timing is critical. Redistricting in Virginia usually occurs only once every ten years. In order to enact the amendment before the next ten-year redistricting in early 2021, the constitutional amendment must pass again this legislative session and then go before voters on the ballot in November. 

Why the League of Women Voters of Virginia supports the Constitutional Amendment, SJ 18 / HJ 71

  • The Amendment gives citizens a voice in the Virginia redistricting process for the first time. Protectionist maps help legislators keep their seats. Citizens don’t have that conflict of interest. 
  • The Amendment for the first time requires that lines be drawn in accordance with specific “laws that address racial and ethnic fairness,” avoiding harm to our communities and Virginia. 
  • Redistricting decisions will be brought into the light, not hidden away in dark, secret backrooms. 

What do the accompanying bills do? 

  • Senate bill 203 creates criteria for drawing maps, such as ensuring the votes of racial or language minorities are not diluted, preserving communities of interest, and avoiding lines that favor parties or politicians or divide towns. 
  • Senate bill 204 directs the Court to appoint a citizen “special master” to assist in redistricting. 

Shouldn’t we try for a better commission, without legislators? This is the only amendment available to be passed this year, before the decennial redistricting and the next House election. We need to pass it while the window of opportunity is open. 

Should voters be concerned about Virginia’s Supreme Court? Accompanying legislation (SB204) requires the court to appoint a citizen special master to draw the maps. Virginia’s justices are bound by canons of judicial ethics and were appointed by Democrat, as well as Republican, controlled legislative chambers. 

Who supports S.J. 18? Respected voices include the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Senator Tim Kaine and Rep. Don Beyer, and the editorial boards of the Richmond Times-Daily and the Virginian-Pilot. Importantly, 70% of Virginians support redistricting reform, according to a recent poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. 

The eyes of the nation are on Virginia. Without the constitutional amendment, the very next statehouse election, in 2021, could bring in a legislature that would reverse any mere laws. An amendment is the only vehicle strong enough to start real change and ensure fair elections. 

The League of Women Voters of Virginia stands up for voters. 

The League fully supports SJ 18 and HJ 71. 

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