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.