Friday, October 8 Commission Meeting Begins with Public Comments

On Friday, October 8, after a “breather” during four days of public hearings, the Commission met to review the most recent maps prepared by the Commission map drawers.

In a departure from previous meetings, the Commission moved the public comment period to the top of the agenda on Friday.  Forty people signed up to speak virtually, but few “signed on”, possibly because they weren’t aware of the time change. Several members of the NAACP noted that they were there to listen, not to speak.  Technical issues with the translator’s audio connection also interrupted the speakers and the meeting several times.

First, Liz White, Executive Director of One Virginia 2021, spoke in-person.  She described three possible ways the Commission could go during the next few days: (1) You can decide you can’t agree and let SCoVA (Supreme Court of VA) take over.  “Make this your last response.”   (2)  Take the two-week extension but be aware this is a one-shot deal and puts the timeline for the General Assembly just a day or two before General Election.  (3) “Come together right now and do what the community wants you to do.”  “Lean heavily on the data before you and push through any impasse.  You provided over 50 opportunities for citizens to speak to the commission.”  White encouraged the Commission to use available data such as analyses from Princeton Gerrymandering Project and Moon Duchin, as well as data from recent elections and demographic data from the Census. “The DLS members of this staff have worked too hard and too long to give up.  I haven’t lost hope.  Neither should you.”

Nine people called in to address the Commission. 

Chandra Gore of Stafford, spoke on behalf of the NAACP.  She reminded the Commissioners that it’s important to take steps to expand access to voting.  “Don’t be complacent or forget the long history of disenfranchisement.  Ensure the redistricting process is both transparent and fair.”  She said she has “put boots to the ground to encourage others to vote.”

Shirley Augost asked the Commission, “if we are going to do any redistricting, take consideration” of people who are on the ballot this year.  “Will they have to run again?” Don’t just segregate the areas again.  “Virginia has come a long way, don’t regress.” Further, she said, “Virginia is progressing.  I hope Virginia continues to grow and build unity, not division.”

Robert Barnette, president of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP spoke next.  He wanted the chair and Commissioners to know that he was at the October 2 meeting but was not promoted to speak, but he is here today.  He was concerned that the maps produced so far  do not provide Virginia equal opportunity to elect representative of their choice.  Map C2 appears to be backsliding from the current maps in place since 2011.  “In particular, there are only three majority black districts, a backslide from the five today.  There are no black representatives from non-majority black districts.”  Barnette posed several questions: “Why does the map include only three minority-majority districts?  Is the Commission aware they have reduced (the number) by 40%?  Did the Commission consider black Virginians’ ability to elect representatives of their choice?  Is the Commission concerned with providing those opportunities?  These are the statement from the Virginia Conference NAACP.”  Co-chair Harris apologized for the technical difficulties from last week, but was “glad you got in today.”

Jean Monroe said it was her first time at this type of meeting.  She expressed her appreciation for the Commission.

Karen Campblin, a Fairfax County resident, and Environmental and Climate Justice Chair for the Virginia Conference of the NAACP and Co-director for the Green New Deal of Virginia spoke next.  She explained that she was actively involved in the (local) redistricting process in Fairfax County and understood the “enormous task for this Commission.”  She urged the Commission to “ensure that the process is not only fair, but also transparent.  Correct discriminatory practices of packing and cracking that occurred n the past and negatively impact communities of color.  Maintain the majority-minority districts without packing or cracking.”  She asked the Commissioners to remember Virginia’s history of voter suppression, including poll taxes and literacy tests. She concluded her remarks by asking the Commission to “ensure a fair, transparent, and accountable process for everyone.”

Diana Sunkins, a member of the Suffolk NAACP, said this was her “first time being a part of anything like this.”  She is working to educate her community about the political process and hoped that her “attendance will get more of her people to attend things like this.”  She said she looks forward to listening.

Yvonne McIntyre  of the Arlington NAACP said that like others, it was her “first time to participate.”  She described two concerns:  (1) a reduction in majority-minority African American representation in proposed  Senate maps.  (2) in South Arlington, drawing the map along Columbia Pike, a diverse area of Arlington, would “split the vote into separate districts which would dilute the vote and turn it from a majority-minority district into districts that would not be so.” 

Co-chair Harris thanked everyone for their comments, saying, “We have hundreds of comments from citizens.  I am grateful for that; it helps inform how we do our mapmaking.”  At that point, Harris closed the public comment, but anticipated reopening the  public comment period later when others might join – at 11 am and again at 4 pm.

Richard Zimmerman, a retired high school government and history teacher, former Marine, and a “son of Virginia” called Commissioners’ attention to Plan 164 for eleven Congressional districts.  He said he drew that map with compact districts, using preK-12 attendance zones.  He said he doesn’t “understand how contractor maps A7, B6, A5 and B4, meet needs of “communities of interest.”  He asked Commissioners to “respect localities PreK-5 schools at a granular level.”  He criticized map A5 District 8 as a “sausage that runs along the Potomac River,” combining neighborhoods separated by Quantico Base and including three school attendance zones in Fairfax, and four in Prince William. He repeated his contention from an earlier appearance that “a delegate should be able to visit high schools at Friday night football games.”

Later in the morning Jonette Barley spoke, expressing appreciation for McDougle’s comments and shared his concerns.  She expressed hope that the meeting will be fair to all.  She then discussed her experience a few years ago when changes in school boundaries forced her to change schools.  “Redistricting matters.  It affects our children.”

No further citizen comments were heard on this day.

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A Mix of Comments from the Shenandoah Valley and Beyond

The 7th of eight public hearings on the draft legislature maps was chaired by citizen commissioner Mackenzie Babichenko. Once again, translators were available if needed.   Six citizen commissioners and seven legislator commissioners were present to listen to public comments.

Speakers spoke about a variety of topics, including maps for the Valley Region, minority representation, partisan gerrymandering, and the district numbering system. 

Timothy Jost of Rockingham County described House map B6, district 72 as “good”, combining a mix of urban/suburban and rural areas.  Currently this area is divided into four different House districts, which is very confusing.  Education, manufacturing and retail are important in the “lower eastern part” whereas the upper part of Rockingham is more rural with important agriculture, poultry and cattle industries.  House map B6, district 69 could be improved by moving district 72 to the east, and taking the western part of 72 and adding it to 69.  This revised District 72 would be over 40% non-white, so it could be considered an opportunity district.  Jost mentioned support of Janet Trettner’s remarks regarding renumbering districts so that House, Senate and Congressional map numbers would not be duplicated.

Leslie Tate is aware of communities and land use development patterns as a senior planner in community development in Augusta County, and leader of the local redistricting efforts.  She approved of Senate maps which keeps Augusta County whole.  She would like to see one House district for Augusta County as well.  Draft  B5 and B6 maps for the House places northeast Augusta communities with Albemarle in district 81.  These communities are separated by a mountain; they are different in many ways.  She cited American Community Survey data that shows higher household income and higher education attainment in Albemarle, and less employment in manufacturing.  “The A maps put NE Augusta with Rockingham, which is preferred because they are linked by transportation routes, share many socio-economic factors, and together form one of the largest agricultural regions of the state.  Going back to B5 and B6 maps, she criticized the north-south split – communities are not conveniently separated by this split.  A maps are better for Augusta County.

Edgar Lara, a member of multiple statewide coalitions, focused on Winchester where he has family.  Like other valley communities, Winchester has a growing immigrant community – currently it is split into three districts.  He would like it to be kept whole.   Going on to Waynesboro, where he has lived for 20 years, he stated that Senate A5 map makes sense for Staunton, Harrisonburg and Waynesboro.  For the House, he prefers the “Virginia Counts Coalition” map.  He would like to see a more compact Congressional district for the northern Valley region.

Allen Louderback, a former Delegate who participated in the last redistricting cycle, expressed appreciation for the Commission’s hard work.  He wants to keep districts as compact as possible so there will be less confusion.  When he was a delegate, voters were confused because the district he represented had small parts of Winchester City and Frederick County.  He has a concern about the Senate B4 map which has District 26 broken up into segments.  He said it makes more sense to keep it as is instead of splitting it up.  Page has nothing in common with Frederick and Loudoun Counties, he said, yet they are combined in one district on one map.  He concluded by saying he doesn’t want to see “salamanders.”

Peter Van Acker said he had “nothing brilliant to say,” but encouraged the Commission to remain apolitical and to respect cultural and geographical boundaries as much as possible.  “That’s why people supported this commission.”  He would have preferred to have no politicians on the Commission.   He echoed concerns expressed by Ms. Tate about Augusta County, Staunton, Wayneboro and Greene County.

Other speakers addressed maps for other areas of the state.  Some commented on map numbers, political fairness, and minority representation.

Janet Trettner of Keezletown (Rockingham County), wanted to make three points.  First, she said, the district numbering system is confusing – all House, State Senate, and Congressional districts start with the number 1; thus, many districts have the same “name” or number, rather than a distinct name/number.  For example, Rockingham County has House and Senate districts identified as #26.  Her suggestion to the Commission is to start with 1 for Congressional districts (1-11), 100 for House districts (100-199), and 200 for State Senate districts (200-239).   Continuing on, Trettner said,  “As much as we like our neighbors to the east, mountains separate Rockingham and Albemarle.  Current maps cross the mountains.”  She echoed Mr. Jost’s comments about District 69.  She stated that Harrisonburg and surrounding areas are one community and should be kept together. 

Cathy Hosek of the Mt. Vernon Council of Citizen Associations (MVCCA) (Fairfax County) described her neighborhood as eastern Fairfax between Rt 1 and the Potomac River.  Both House maps A7 and B6 split her community in different ways.  She would like to see a district that extends south from Alexandria City to Ft. Belvoir.  The Rt. 1 corridor is developing into a “main street” instead of functioning as a commuter route.   She stated that the city of Alexandria has “nothing in common” with the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County which should not be grouped in a district with the city.

Richard Zimmerman expressed appreciation for the public service of the Commissioners. Describing himself as a 50-year voter, 7-year resident of Harrisonburg, and a public school teacher, he suggested that map drawers consider school district boundaries since people choose to live in communities where their children will be educated.  “People move into school districts, not precincts,” he explained.  He began to refer to language differences, “Russian-speaking and German-speaking” populations when his screen froze.  He did not rejoin the zoom to complete his remarks.

Miranda Galindo, senior counsel for the Latino Justice PRLDEF  (Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund) Southeast Region Office, provided information about the growing Latino population in Virginia.  She said she is closely monitoring the redistricting process to protect Latino rights and Latino communities of interest.  She noted that the Latino population in Virginia has increased 44% during the past decade.  There are now a quarter-million Spanish-speaking people living in every area of Virginia; that equals 11% of Virginia’s total population.  Arlington and Alexandria have experienced substantial population growth; Manassas and the Prince William area population increased by 30%; Dale City + 45%; Richmond +85% increase.  From Richmond to Virginia Beach, the average increase in Latino population is 65%.  The Commission “must not ignore or divide this population”, which is “younger than most populations.”  They should “be able to participate in the process without language barriers.”  She applauded the recent availability of translators, but it was too late, and she heard complaints about not being allowed enough time (about 1 extra minute) for translations.  PRLDEF is monitoring federal law compliance regarding language access and opportunities for minorities to elect candidates of their choice.

David Sparkman, a newspaper publisher in Frederick County, suggested that they needed to look at the “length of boundaries to avoid gerrymandering.”  He stated that he’s “hearing a lot about protecting minorities; that is not American, we are integrating society and need to look for contested elections, not protection.”  He suggested that these maps are a “protection racket” to protect elected officials, which is “not the way American works.”  “Politicians are temporary” as “America changes opinions.”  He suggested that we should “build a structure system into the future.” 

Nancy Almasi lives in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County. She voted in support of the commission, “believing that citizens would provide checks and balances on elected officials, but all I hear about is how maps are drawn on racial and political lines.”  She asked the Commission to “focus on what unites us; draw districts with commonalities.”  “More competitive districts means we elect better leaders,” which is “a win for everyone.”

Scott Filling of Fauquier County, stated that Senate map B4 “favors Democrats,” and that lots of districts were drawn “for no other purpose than politics.”  He agreed with comments today about racial gerrymandering, and cautioned that the Commission needs to “take a slow long look at the process for fair and equal terms for growth of all ethnic groups,” and the need for “fair treatment for all.”

Melissa Beaudoin of Mason district in Fairfax County, a former elected official and political scientist, is “looking for the Commission to embrace fairness.”  When she saw maps that increased the number of “Democratic districts from 30 to 37,” she felt she had to speak up “against unjust gerrymandering.”  She criticized Senate map B4 and House map B6 as favoring Democrats, creating districts “for politics.”  She described Senate District 32 as a “winged dinosaur” drawn “from Halifax to Goochland to pack Republicans.”  She criticized Arlington and Alexandria as “split more than necessary to spread Democrat votes.”  She described the House map as “repugnant.” 

Erin Corbett of the VCET (Virginia Civic Engagement Table) has learned, through her work with coalition partners, that there is a lot of “misunderstanding of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and “packing and cracking.”  She was concerned about comments regarding the “interpretation of the VRA for protecting communities of color.”  “If you are watching and listening,” you will know that “ensuring that communities of color can elect candidates of their choice is not partisan.” She reminded listeners that VCET is nonpartisan and nonpolitical. 

You may view proposed maps submitted by Commission map drawers and citizens and groups.  You may also comment on the maps.

Commission meetings and hearings can be found on the Commission website.  All meetings are “open to the public” – the public may attend in person or virtually.

The Commission plans to meet on Friday, October 8, Saturday, October 9 (tentative), and Monday, October 11 to finalize maps for the House of Delegates and State Senate.

 

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Central Region Residents Give Feedback on Maps

Nearly 40 people signed up to speak at the Wednesday afternoon hearing.  Eighteen were able to join and speak to the Commissioners.  Most hailed from Charlottesville and Albemarle County.  Seven of eight legislator commissioners were in attendance, as well as two citizen commissioners.

Most of the speakers requested that the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County be kept together in one legislative district because of their shared interests and activities.  They mentioned that Fluvanna, Nelson or Greene counties could be connected to get more population as they are neighboring jurisdictions and belong to the same regional planning district (#10).  Several expressed concerns about Albemarle districts crossing over the mountains into more rural Augusta County.

There were also a few speakers from Henrico County. One mentioned maps that separates the Asian community in Henrico.   Other speakers requested that college and university campuses not be split into different districts; still others made suggestions for redrawing Congressional districts.

Eleven speakers hailed from the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle , Buckingham and Greene Counties.

Kay Slaughter, former mayor and city council member in Charlottesville, asked the Commission to not gerrymander Albemarle County.  She noted that House map A7 (drawn by Republican mapdrawer, John Morgan) divides Albemarle into three districts; Albemarle does not form a “community of interest” with Augusta County.  Map B6 shows 2 districts for Albemarle, with one district (81) crossing the mountains (into Augusta County).  She suggested getting population from Nelson, Fluvanna or Greene Counties instead.  These counties are part of the same planning district, #10.  Residents commute for work, medical care, shopping and cultural activities.  Augusta is more connected to the Valley, and Lynchburg to others.  In closing, Slaughter noted the death of Mr. Leigh Middleditch, a longtime resident and civic leader of Albemarle, who promoted nonpartisan redistricting reform for a long time.  “He would’ve asked you to apply non-gerrymandering to his beloved Albemarle.”

Michael Rodemeyer noted that Albemarle County is currently divided into 4 different House districts (57-59, and 25).  He made a plea to keep Albemarle together, saying it had more in common with Charlottesville than neighboring rural areas. He echoed Slaughter’s concern about Albemarle being in same district as Augusta County.  He closed by thanking the Commissioners for their time, noting that it’s a difficult and sometimes thankless job.  But “do the job voters sent you to do; preserve fair districts for voters rather than politicians.  You have the power.”

Elly Tucker, who has lived in Charlottesville/Albemarle Co for 45 years, thanked the Commissioners for their work. She described Charlottesville and Albemarle residents going to the same markets, shopping mall and music events without saying “I’m going to Charlottesville” or “I’m going to Albemarle.”  She asked both sides to work together for one set of maps, keeping Charlottesville and Albemarle together as one Community of Interest.  She criticized map A7 as splitting Albemarle 3 ways, and B6 as better with only 2 districts for Albemarle.  She criticized current Congressional District 5 as “terrible” and asked  that it be made more compact.  Tucker asked for more data, including early and absentee voting data, in the future.  She concluded by asking the Commission to “show the country that Virginia can shine to produce bipartisan maps and districts.”

Tim Hickey, a former House of Delegates candidate from south Albemarle County, described current maps as “insidious partisan gerrymanders” that, for the past 10 years, sliced the county into 4 different House districts. “Albemarle is 70% Democrat; why do we now have 3 Republican and 1 Democrat” representatives?  “They deserve better”, he said, proposing that Charlottesville and surrounding area form one district, with the rest of Albemarle in the second district.  He described part of the proposed map A7 as sensible, pairing Albemarle with Nelson County; but he urged the Commission to reject other aspects of A7 which “slices the heart of the community to draw in Amherst” which, in his opinion, belongs to Lynchburg.  “Respect the people of Albemarle County.” Read more

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A first for the redistricting commission – foreign language interpreters!

Today, for the first time, language interpreters were available to assist speakers and attendees who are not fluent in English.  Translators were standing by to help Vietnamese, Korean, and Spanish speakers.  Although no one requested Korean or Vietnamese language interpretation, several Spanish speakers had the assistance of interpreters. One Spanish interpreter was provided by the Virginia Civic Engagement Table (VCET).  The Division of Legislative Services (DLS) staff and Commission sent notice of language assistance a few hours prior to the afternoon hearing.  To sign up for Spanish interpretation, email  

Around 35 people signed up to speak at the Public Hearing which was focused on Northern Virginia.  Twenty of the 35 spoke.  Themes of keeping communities together was heard throughout the hearing.

Six people (Rosalia Fajardo, Lenka Mendoza, Vicky Leiva, Alejandra Ponciano, Elsa Delgado, and Karina Flores) spoke in support of Map # 147, which was submitted by the Multicultural Community Coalition.  Map 147 was drawn for counties in Northern Virginia.  The speakers have lived in Virginia for 11 to 22 years.  They described their communities in Prince William County, Manassas, and Dale City.  They spoke of their cultural ties to their communities, including shopping, schools, and churches.  They expressed a desire for representation and look forward to having their voices heard for the next ten years.

Three people spoke on behalf of their community organizations.  Mr. Paul Berry, chair of the Fairfax County Redistricting group, described the process that this group of 20 followed as they drew new county supervisor and school board districts.  They elevated communities of interest and gave “no formal consideration to elected officials.”  They “unanimously agreed that where they live is less important than the citizens they serve.”  Monica Sarmiento , Executive Director of the Virginia Coalition for Immigrants Rights (CIR), a coalition of 43 groups, noted that Virginia has the 9th largest immigrant population in the U.S., and that ¾ of the immigrant communities are in Northern Virginia.  She noted the map her coalition submitted and wanted to endorse the maps submitted by VCET and the New Virginia Majority.  Edgar Aranda-Yanoc, executive director of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, wants to make his community stronger and supports alternate map 147.

Eleven people spoke as individuals about the draft maps.  Recurring themes were respect for COIs (Communities of interest) and criticism of incumbent protection. 

Mr. Ankit Jain said that the number of seats that a party holds must be proportional.  If maps are compact but “give advantage to one party or another”, they are not fair.  He noted that the A5 Senate map has been given a grade of “F” by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project; the House maps were graded “B” and “A”.  He recommended using Senate map B4 and House map A7 as base maps, making some changes, and looking for the possibility of creating one more minority opportunity district.

Chris DeRosa (Arlington) expressed approval of both A5 and B4 maps of the Senate districts for Arlington, while rejecting a change in House map A7 which seemed to result in incumbent protection. She noted that neither A7 nor B6 reflected the COIs that had been mentioned by speakers in the previous week, notably the Columbia Pike and metro corridors. 

Janet Martin (North Springfield) described her community as extending to and including Annandale, which has a large Korean community.  She does not like House B6 map which splits Annandale and connects North Springfield to George Mason University 20 miles to the west.  Martin wondered why the community of Holmes Run Acres was carved out.  She described many conversations that “start with concerns about incumbent addresses”, which should be at the “bottom of your list – make it the last thing you look at.”  Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr, she said it was “time to bend the arc of history toward justice.”

Mr. Lynn Pascoe, co-chair of the Mt. Vernon Council of Citizens Assn (MVCCA), said he was not satisfied with any of the maps, and that he will submit alternative maps.  Sam Shirazi said it doesn’t make sense that Charlottesville is split 3 ways or that rural King George County is paired with Fredericksburg.  He wondered if public comments are being heard and incorporated into fair maps. 

Richard Zimmerman described Northern Virginia districts as “sausages” breaking up townships.  “A delegate ought to be able to visit with his constituents in the first half of the football game and another group in the 2nd half.” 

Callie Jordan, a student at University of Mary Washington, asked that her campus be kept together in one House district.  Being split into two House districts (as it is now; Districts 28 and 88) and 3 municipal wards causes confusion.  Students, staff, and the greater community of Fredericksburg share many interests in common. 

Bill Millhouser (Fairfax County) supported earlier statements by Jain, Martin, and Berry.  He prefers House map A7 and Senate map B4.  He approves of Bailey’s Crossroads being included in the Columbia Pike corridor in Arlington.  Made several other suggestions of modifying districts to better respect COIs. 

Lois Maiden-McCray (Prince William County) said that churches and shopping were important to her.  She expressed a preference for House map B6 and Senate map B4 but does not like House map A7.  She asked the Commission to not dilute the vote and reminded them, quoting her mother, that “it’s nice to be nice”. 

Ms. Ha Nguyen (Centreville) noted that Asians comprised 6.5% of Virginia’s total population in 2010, but in 2020 is 9% of the state population, an increase of 45%.  She noted that the Asian community had a lot at stake in redistricting, and that they are deserving of “collective advocacy power”.  She asked that Centreville be included in a district with Fairfax County where her family and neighbors shop and go to school (rather than Prince William County).  Ms. Nguyen mentioned the maps created by VCET, a coalition which includes NAKASEC. 

Hamilton Premen (Fauquier County) said this process is “a dream come true”, referring to VPAP’s rating of all maps as more compact than current maps.  He is concerned that Fauquier County is split and asked for smoother boundaries, rather than the jagged borders that he sees on maps.  He recommended using the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to evaluate maps for political fairness.  “Incumbents should have even less weight”, he stated. 

The next hearings are scheduled for Tuesday, October 5 at 10 am (Southside) and 4 pm (Hampton Roads) and will continue Wednesday and Thursday.  All hearings are virtual and can be viewed on YouTube.  You may sign up to speak no later than 12 noon the day before the hearing.

LWV-VA Observer Corps –
Peggy Layne – LWV-MC

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Chris DeRosa Speaks for League at August 23 Commission Meeting

Good morning.

I’m Chris DeRosa.  This morning I am here, representing the League of Women Voters of Virginia, including our President, Deb Wake, and over 2200 members of the League.

We have worked hard for #Fair maps for many, many years, including helping to pass the Constitutional Amendment in November.  Our position is that we want and need fair maps for the benefit of the voters of Virginia.  Virginians want to elect representatives of their choice.

The biggest improvement in the process, we believe, is transparency – we are watching and listening to all your discussions and votes with great interest.  Pouring sunshine into the process is important.  We ask you to be wary of going around FOIA and transparency by allowing any decisions to be made behind closed doors.

Also, we fully support the establishment of other criteria for maps, especially the respect for  Communities of Interest(COI) and  the rights of ethnic, racial, and language minorities “to elect representatives of their choice”. 

Although we would have preferred a nonpartisan, all-citizen commission, we are hopeful that all of you on this commission, being balanced and bipartisan, will work for the benefit of all Virginians.

We hope that you are listening to the voices of the people.  We hope that you are reading all of the comments – nearly 400 written comments submitted by email, over 125 in the newest portal, (more than 3/4 of those submitted in the past 10 days).   League members have read all comments and note that a few threads have been woven throughout the meetings and hearings.    We’ve heard loudly and clearly that people want their communities kept together rather than split into 2 or more districts unnecessarily.  Reunite them into one cohesive community.

Secondly, another thread is that not one person who has submitted testimony has advised the Commissioners to begin with existing maps.  Virginians do not want this to happen. Thank you to those of you who put aside partisanship today with your vote.

These messages are from the people of Virginia.  Hear their voices.  Do what’s right for the people, not what’s right for the Ds or the Rs, not what’s right for partisan interests.  What’s fair for the people, not for politicians. 

You are concerned with “landing this plane” and maps getting approval from members of the General Assembly.  You might land the plane, but if the politicians are in the pilot seats and the cabin door is locked, you may not have the approval of the voters sitting in the passenger cabin.  We hope that you will keep this in mind:  draw maps that the residents of this Commonwealth will approve.  You should work for us.   And The League is here to work alongside with you.

 

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Valley Residents Continue Call for Fair Maps and Respect for Communities

Seven Virginians spoke to the Commission at its 8th and final public hearing before the census arrives.  The virtual hearing on Thursday, August 5, at 6 pm, was attended by six Commissioners – 4 citizen Commissioners and 2 Legislator members.  At the request of Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko, Delegate Marcus Simon presided over the hearing.

Janet Trettner of Keezletown, VA (Rockingham County) was first to speak.  Representing the Rockingham County Democratic Committee (RCDC), she described Rockingham County as “nestled solidly in the Shenandoah Valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains to the East and West Virginia to the west.”  She told Commissioners that Rockingham County has two “communities of interest.”  One, in the lower part of the county, is urban-suburban with manufacturing, education, and retail “industries,” including three universities and colleges.  The other more rural agricultural region is in the western and upper portions of the county.  This region of poultry, livestock and produce farming has been identified by USDA as the leading agricultural area of the state of Virginia.

Trettner asked the Commission to consider these two COIs in Rockingham County and to “use the Blue Ridge Mts as a natural boundary of these COIs rather than extend over the mountains.”   Trettner also made a unique request of the Commission as it draws the maps:  she recommended that they “rename the House, Senate, and Congressional districts to eliminate redundancy.”  She explained that the current numbering system results in three sets of districts being identified as #1, 3 more as #2, etc., through #11.  When identified by number only, “it’s hard to know if it’s a House, Senate, or Congressional District.”  Furthermore, two districts have the same name (HD26 and SD 26).  “Give each district a distinct name to eliminate this confusion.”

Three speakers from Shenandoah County called for district maps that makes sense for their county.  Kyle Gutshall stated that “it’s clear where myself and many other voters stand when it comes to new districts. This commission has obligations to Virginians, not powerful politicians.  That’s why we voted for this commission in November.”  His district stretches to DC and he “shouldn’t have to travel 50 or 100 miles to see my representative. My representative should be local to my neighbors and me.  We need to allow strong and clear voices without being split down the middle.  My vote should    count just as much as any other vote in the state of Virginia.” 

Brandi Sheetz of Woodstock echoed the request to “Keep Virginia voters in mind, and not politicians, when new maps are drawn.  Current districts see our communities split up and limit the power of our local voices. Keep neighbors and neighborhoods together and not split them across waterways just to benefit politicians.  Let Northern Virginia and Richmond folks have their own districts, but don’t force me to vote with them when I don’t live near them.” 

Travis Cooper reminded the commission that its responsibility is to “draw new districts that are fair.”  District maps have “crazy lines that currently exist”.  He wants “new districts that are fair, easy to understand and not partisan.   I voted for the Redistricting Amendment to make sure folks in Richmond aren’t running the show.” He urges the Commission to “draw a clean map and keep my county together.  I want to be able to look at my district and easily see what district I’m in and who represents me. I want to look at my district and see that it makes sense.”  Maps “should not be made to benefit any one party; they should be made to benefit Virginia voters as a whole.”

Niro Rasanayagam has lived and paid taxes in Lynchburg for 18 years.  “Lynchburg’s social, cultural, and economic interests are different from those of more rural districts to which we have somewhat unnaturally been attached.”  She regrets that “rural districts dominate the portfolio” of her representatives and,  end up “diluting our community clout, and diminishing our voice in Richmond.”  One example of unique issues: “part of the city of Lynchburg has a significantly higher poverty rate, sometimes double that of neighboring rural counties.”  Elected officials “must work for and serve this higher needs population.”  “Having four districts instead of two is confusing to voters and is impractical.   Even the savviest voters have a hard time keeping track of who their representatives are, and what district they’re in. This leads to voter confusion and frustration.  Right now, I’m feeling a little powerless.” She also notes that she is very interested in “downtown revitalization but have no say because my delegate does not cover downtown Lynchburg.”  Echoing the demands of other Lynchburg speakers at earlier hearings, she concludes, “Please restore the city of Lynchburg into a single COI with a single Delegate district and a single Senate district.”

Student Jack Tueting described the problems his fellow students in Albemarle County face.  The students at his high school live in four different House of Delegates districts.  “Many seniors can vote, but it doesn’t make sense that they vote in different areas from where they go to school.”  He recommended that Albemarle County be divided into two House of Delegates districts that would meet population requirements, while keeping the communities of interest within the county intact. “I hope that the Commission would consider local boundaries of supervisor districts and school districts so that communities are not fractured and can maintain their voice in voting.”

Erin Corbett /VCET (VA Civic Engagement Table) mentioned that some of her participants were having difficulty with the soundfeed on the livestream.  She went on to ask the Commission “to really think through the process with which they will facilitate feedback in September.  I know this is going to be a lot of quickly moving pieces once (census) arrives.       Be really intentional on how you will facilitate feedback on maps and how you will publicize that facilitation…  so those interested parties can plan accordingly.”

— Chris DeRosa, LWV-Arlington

 

 

 

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Black Voices Heard at August 3 Public Hearing on Central Region

The fourth and last in-person public hearing focused on the Central Region and was held at the Pocahontas Building in Richmond on Tuesday, August 3.  A variety of Virginians spoke to the Commission – 13 of the 16 Commissioners were in attendance, including the newest Commissioner, Virginia Trost-Thornton.  In addition, two Commissioners attended virtually.

During the hour-long public hearing, 17 speakers addressed the Commission in person, while six more spoke virtually.    

Chris DeRosa (Arlington) spoke first, setting the tone of the hearing by sharing quotes compiled by Sara Fitzgerald (Falls Church) and Candace Butler (Fairfax).  The quotes were from the applications submitted by three of the citizen Commissioners, both Republican and Democrat.  One Commissioner wrote of his belief that extreme partisan gerrymandering contributed significantly to “increasing political polarization”, and that “artificially creating districts in a convoluted and discriminating manner avoids the operation of natural communities of interest, and, in many cases, prevents minorities from ever having an effective voice.”  Another Commissioner wrote, “I want. . . to ensure that every voice and every vote counts and is not negated by gerrymandered lines that silence ideas and concerns”, while a third wrote, “Redistricting to ensure fair and representative districts is fundamental to good government and trusted institutions in our Commonwealth. The Commission will help to draw the foundation of representative government in Virginia for the next decade.”  With that inspiration, the public hearings continued. 

This was the first public hearing which featured several speakers from the black and brown communities.  Several members of the NBNRO (National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization), led by Phil Thompson and Mike Futrell, addressed the Commission.  Thompson stated that “Black and minority communities matter.”  He and Futrell cited the early opposition from the Legislative Black Caucus which doubted that this process and this commission could truly represent the interests of black and minority voters.  Futrell, a former Delegate from Prince William County, recalled receiving the advice to “vote your conscience, vote your district, and then worry about voting your party.”  He recalled how, at first, there were few applicants, that “nobody looked like us” for the citizen commissioner seats, that the applicants didn’t represent the black and brown community.  Only after outreach efforts of the NBNRO, One Virginia 2021, and the League of Women Voters, did the number of applicants increase to more than 1,200.  “Well, we have a seat at the table, now it’s time to start setting the menu.”  He admonished the Commission to reach more Virginians.  He’s frustrated that “the only people that look like me coming to these events are the ones we’re reaching out. When you draw those lines, I want you to see the faces of the people that are going to be impacted by the decisions that you make.” “It’s not about Democrats or Republicans.  Do what’s best for the Commonwealth for Virginia.”  “Make sure that every voice is heard in this process.” 

  • Katina Moss emphasized that it is the firm belief of NBNRO “that fair districts empower black and brown districts.” “Redistricting therefore is politics. … How will this bipartisan commission support people over party?  After all, isn’t politics supposed to serve the people?”
  • Taorise Marks, a military veteran and leader in the Chesterfield County NAACP, brought his young son, Asiris, with him. He voted for the Constitutional Amendment but would have liked to have seen more people that look like him on the Commission. He wanted to see and hear from the Kroger baggers, sanitation workers, some of our everyday people, and said their “voices continue to be muted.” He said that in 10 years, Asiris will be able to vote.  “He’s going to be standing tall to represent this country proudly.  Ensure his sacrifice matters, his vote matters.  All we want is fairness. Fairness in drawing the maps.  Fairness for the people who are not represented here today. And especially for black and brown voices.” 
  • Lois McCray supported all the previous speakers and asked that veterans’ interests be addressed. “Black lives matter.  Brown lives matter.  Your lives matter.”  “We don’t want anything more than anybody else. We want maps to be drawn fairly so we can all live in a better world and not feel that we are being mistreated.  Draw fair lines so there can be fair maps and fair voting and we can all sleep peacefully at night.  Like my mom always says, “It’s just nice to be nice.”

Liz White, director of One Virginia 2021 and a Chesterfield County resident, appealed to the public to communicate with the Commission.  She reminded all that “Communities of Interest (COIs) are not only legally mandated, but also best practice nationwide.”  She noted that half of the comments have centered around COIs, especially cities and towns. She spoke to Virginians and encouraged them to participate in this process.  “No one knows your community like you.  They can’t honor a COI if they don’t know about it.  Please make sure your community is part of this conversation.  There are a variety of ways on the One Virginia 2021 website to make it as easy as possible.  This is an unprecedented space for the public, for us.  Fill that space – let the Commissioners know.”

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Citizen Engagement Subcommittee Discusses Public Hearing Schedule and Guidelines for Citizen Input

The Citizen Engagement Subcommittee (Virginia Redistricting Commission) met for the third time on May 26.  

The Commissioners discussed options for public hearings which will be held in July and early August.  Consensus was that each of eight regions (Weldon Cooper map) will have two opportunities to provide input, one in-person hearing and one virtual; one hearing before lines are drawn, and one after. There will be some flexibility in the budget for possible additional hearings and for some of the commissioners to attend more than their scheduled number of hearings.  States such as California and Michigan which have a much larger number of hearings planned are not under the same constraints.

The Commissioners reviewed the guidelines for public input prepared by DLS, and made a few suggestions.  It was generally agreed that in-person hearings would be open to all Virginians, but the virtual hearings would focus on the needs of residents of that region.  People could sign up beforehand, and also at the in-person hearings until 10 minutes after the meeting begins.

A firm schedule of hearings will be considered further at the June 7 meeting of the full commission so that all Commissioners are able to consult their calendars.

DLS staff will continue to revise the proposed guidelines and do further research to answer Commissioners’ questions.

Read on for more details about the Subcommittee’s discussions.

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What’s Your Community of Interest?

As the Virginia Redistricting Commission begins to draw new district maps, it must respect “Communities of Interest” (COI), as stated in SB 717 and HB 1255.

The specific language from the bills is as follows:
“Districts shall be drawn to preserve communities of interest. For purposes of this subdivision, a “community of interest” means a neighborhood or any geographically defined group of people living in 40 an area who share similar social, cultural, and economic interests. A “community of interest” does not include a community based upon political affiliation or relationship with a political party, elected official, or candidate for office.”

Some communities have been cracked or split into 2 or more House of Delegate, State Senate, and/or Congressional districts. Other communities find themselves drawn into a district that is comprised primarily of another County or jurisdiction. In both instances, the voters find that their voices aren’t being heard or respected by their elected leaders.

The League of Women Voters of Virginia partnered with teams from Princeton and Tufts Universities to introduce and train Virginians on how to draw maps of their COI. Virginians can use their easy-to-use, open source tools to identify their Communities of Interest, draw maps of their COIs, and share them with the Redistricting Commission. The goal is to help voters to participate in the redistricting process by creating as many community maps as possible and sharing them – especially hard-to-count populations that might be overlooked in the redistricting process.

The team at Tufts University’s Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group (MGGG) has created the DistrictR tool. You can visit their website for more information. 

The Princeton University/Princeton Gerrymandering Team has created the Representable tool. You can find information at the Representable website.  

The LWV-VA is attempting to collect as many COI maps using the Representable tool. Start at this link in order to add your map to the League’s “mapping drive” folder

Later, you can submit your COI maps to the Commission for their consideration.

To learn more, you may view the recordings of the training and information sessions on our YouTube channel .  

 

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