“Hail Mary” Proposal Results in One Draft Map of Congressional Districts

When the Virginia Redistricting Commission next came together on Thursday, October 14, presiding Co-chair Greta Harris announced that the Commission would be moving on to Congressional maps.  The co-chairs had met and given instructions for staff to start with Districts 3 and 4 which were drawn by the courts and then proceed to three districts in the Southwest and Southside; three districts in Northern Virginia; and two districts in the middle of the state.  Initially, the Republican and Democrat map drawers each reviewed maps that had been posted on the Commission web site the previous evening.  They later also incorporated maps for a few missing regions so that the entire state could be viewed.

Their discussion included whether Districts 3 and 4 were the best starting point.  The counsels advised those two maps “represent the safest route to compliance with the Voting Rights Act because they were drawn by the Special Master and blessed by the federal courts.” Both map drawers focused on compactness, and this created its own set of issues.  Did the more east/west alignment of the proposed districts benefit the Republicans and hint at gerrymandering?   Should districts cross mountains to be more compact or run lengthwise through the valleys on either side of the mountain? 

Several commissioners also reminded everyone that there is still uncertainty about “partisan fairness” and unduly favoring one party or the other.  Co-chair Harris asked “what is a reasonable goal for a Congressional District given population changes and recent election results.  What is fair balance? This is the most sensitive direction we can give.”  Citizen commissioner James Abrenio wanted to know, “How are other commissions treating this?  What does the public think?”

As the meeting drew to a close, a “Hail Mary” proposal by Democrat counsel Dr. Kareem Crayton paved the way for the Commission to post one map for public comments.  “Let’s agree about Districts 3 and 4 and we would accept, for the moment, John Morgan’s (Republican) District 4 and District 5 and “our” District 2 and District 7.” Republican counsel Bryan Tyson said he largely agreed.  “If we want one map, use the three districts Zach [Coomes] drew in Northern Virginia, John’s [Morgan] Southwest,  Zach’s 2 and 7, and agree on Districts 3 and 4.  John’s District 1 could also work.” Dr. Crayton added, “It would be helpful to hear what people think about the configurations.” 

The combined map was posted Thursday evening on the Commission website as #364, C1 Statewide. The next meeting of the Commission will be Monday, October 18 at 8 a.m.  Your comments on the map can be posted online and your views on “partisan fairness” and whether districts should cross mountains should be submitted via the Comments Form on the Commission web site.  You can also send emails to the Commission at .  The deadline to sign up to speak virtually at Monday’s meeting is Sunday, October 17 at noon.

PUBLIC COMMENTS AND MORE COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE COMMISSION MEETING FOLLOW –

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Commission Prepares to Draw Congressional Maps

At its previous meeting, on Friday, October 8, the Virginia Redistricting Commission was unable to reach a compromise on how to proceed with redrawing of the House and Senate legislative maps.  The meeting ended abruptly when three citizen commissioners, including Co-chair Greta Harris, walked out of the room. It was unclear at that time how the Commission would move forward.

Many questions were addressed at the scheduled Commission meeting on Monday, October 11.  Both co-chairs were in attendance, but it was held virtually so there were no votes taken.  Commissioners instead concentrated on listening to legal counsel and discussion of options for the next in-person Commission meeting which will be Thursday, October 14 at 8 a.m. 

October 11 was the Constitutionally mandated deadline to send maps to the General Assembly but both lawyers for the Commission indicated a formal notice was not required.  One could be helpful, however, in moving the process along to the Supreme Court of Virginia (SCoVA) if the Commission votes it is their intent to no longer attempt to pass a set of House and Senate maps. 

Dr. Kareem Crayton, Democratic counsel, also advised against revisiting the “starting date” which was decided previously as August 26, and which set the deadline of October 25 for Congressional maps. “Now we’ve chosen, it would raise more questions about why we made decision in first place.  You don’t want to open another question.”  Republican counsel Chris Bartolomucci agreed, and citizen commissioner Sean Kumar said, “It could get really messy to revisit it at this point.  The reality is if it’s over, let’s put SCoVA on notice.” 

This will be considered further Thursday along with the Commission’s first attempt at redrawing of Congressional District maps which are due to the General Assembly by October 25.  Proposals for how to begin map drawing ranged from starting with “viable” citizen maps to using the current maps for Districts 3 and 4 which have already been “blessed by the courts.”  The Commission will need to decide on whether and how to use the map drawers.  Division of Legislative Services (DLS) could assist but they would require very explicit decisions and instructions. DLS attorney Meg Lamb cautioned, “DLS is uncomfortable with being a partisan referee.”

As Monday’s meeting drew to a close, Del. Les Adams (R-Chatham) requested that legal counsel address the status of Co-chair Harris’ membership on the Commission.  He felt it important to clarify whether Harris officially resigned before any votes are taken Thursday.  After considerable discussion among the commissioners, Del. Adams said he would “take Harris’ word on what her intention was but it’s a legal matter and a very reasonable request.”  Several commissioners followed, expressing their personal frustrations at the “fundamental lack of trust and suspicion of motives” on the Commission.  Co-chair Babichenko suggested “We didn’t have an opportunity to get to know each other because of COVID.”

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Meeting Ends Abruptly as Three Citizen Commissioners Leave Room

At the Commission meeting on Friday, October 8, the first following a series of eight public hearings that ended Thursday, the goal of the co-chairs was to spend the bulk of the day and evening trying to get to a single map for House and a single for Senate.   It ended abruptly, however, at 2:45 p.m. with the loss of a quorum after three citizen commissioners walked out.

The Commission meeting began with public comments; approximately 40 people were registered to speak.  This was followed by extensive description and detailed discuss of several maps. The map drawers went through the most recent maps reviewing changes and statistics.

Del. Marcus Simon made a motion, seconded by Sen. George Barker, that the Commission use A7 (House) by the Republican map-drawer and B5 (Senate) by the Democratic map drawer as starting points for discussion.  Sen. Ryan McDougle offered a substitute motion, seconded by citizen commissioner Richard Harrell, to begin with Senate map A5 by the Republican map-drawer.  Both motions failed on separate votes, each 8-8, along party lines. 

After impassioned speeches from several Commissioners, the Commission recessed at 2:00 p.m. and attempted to reassemble at 2:35.  While waiting a few moments for the legislators to return, Co-chair Greta Harris asked DLS attorney Meg Lamb, if there is not a quorum, can a motion to adjourn be made?  At that point, Del. Simon moved to adjourn which failed 6 -10 as more commissioners trickled back into the meeting room.  

Then Co-chair Harris spoke, “I have worked in community development with communities of color that have faced discrimination.  You have to build trust and believe people sitting across the table from you are sincere in their desire to make a positive difference.  At this point, I am prayerful that the Justices will follow the rule of law.  I appeal to the Justices of the Supreme Court of Virginia to take the principles, criteria, and look at the law on the Federal and state level and lift up fairness in whatever you do to your maps.  I don’t feel all members are sincere in their willingness to compromise and create fair maps.  Regrettably, I am done.  Thank you for the opportunity to serve. I will remove myself from this Commission at this point.”

Citizen commissioners Brandon Hutchins and James Abrenio also left the room.  Sen. Ryan McDougle said because three citizens have walked out of the room and one member is attending virtually, they had lost a quorum.  This was confirmed by DLS’ Lamb.  There was discussion about whether they could continue the meeting at that point, but Sen. Mamie Locke advised “Without a quorum, no action can be taken by this Commission, and you cannot discuss business.”

There was some discussion as to whether Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko could call a meeting Saturday or Monday if there was a quorum to see where the Commission could go from here.  Babichenko said she could likely call a meeting but whether there would be a quorum remains to be seen.  At that point, the screen went blank . . ..

 

NOTE:  Some sources question as to whether Co-chair Greta Harris has permanently resigned from the Commission.  Stay tuned.

 

Please check the Commission web site www.virginiaredistricting.org for further news. 

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Very Brief hearing for Eastern Region

This morning’s Redistricting Commission public hearing was intended to focus on the Eastern Region as defined by UVa’s Weldon Cooper Center but none of the speakers specifically addressed issues related to that region, which encompasses the Eastern Shore, Northern Neck, and part of the Middle Peninsula. Instead, speakers addressed the Fredericksburg area, the Roanoke and New River Valleys, and Hampton Roads. 

Fran Larkins of Stafford County advocated that Stafford and Fredericksburg should not be grouped with more rural King George County, and instead include northern Spotsylvania County, following the I-95 transportation corridor. She thanked Commission member Del. Margaret Ransone (R-Kinsale) for pointing out that Stafford is currently divided three ways. Looking at the bigger picture, Larkins urged the Commission to take the 14-day extension allowed by law and get rid of the partisan map drawers, instead seeking advice from trusted non-partisan organizations such as the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and Moon Duchin’s group of mathematicians at Tufts University. She also recommended getting rid of the lawyers, stop protecting incumbents, and focus on communities of interest in order to complete the process.

Martha Hooker of Roanoke County criticized proposed maps for overpopulating districts in the southwestern portion of the state, and specifically criticized a proposed senate district that combines Roanoke with parts of Montgomery County and the city of Radford as a partisan gerrymander. On the House side she asserted that the city of Radford is more aligned with Pulaski County than with nearby Blacksburg, even though both Radford and Blacksburg are university communities. Farther southwest, she advocated for aligning Washington County with Smyth County and Marion rather than Russell County.

Vicky Williams of Hampton urged the commissioners to stay focused on their mission and leave personal opinions and incumbent protection out of consideration. Regarding the Peninsula area, the communities are closely linked with the shipyard, Langley, and Hampton University.

The hearing was over in less than half an hour.

LWV-VA Observer Corps –

Chris DeRosa – LWV-ARL
Peggy Layne – LWV-MC

 

 

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Hampton Roads hearing brings out six speakers

Six speakers expressed their opinions about draft state house and senate maps for the Hampton Roads area at today’s second public hearing chaired by citizen commissioner Sean Kumar. Erin Corbett of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table noted that her organization has attended all commission meetings and done outreach to increase citizen engagement in the process. They have created proposed maps based on input from partners and urge the commission to protect communities of interest and underrepresented groups. Carolyn Caywood from Virginia Beach, an organizer with the Hampton Roads Legislative Collaborative Table, worked hard to pass the amendment establishing the commission. She commended the commission on increased citizen involvement and transparency and expressed disappointment that the bipartisan approach made the maps more complex than a non-partisan approach. Caywood recommended maps A7 and A5 for the Hampton Roads area for their representation of minority voters. 

Anitra Howard, a student at Virginia Wesleyan University, urged commissioners to keep the campus community together in a single district. Beatriz Amberman of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations in Virginia Beach advocated for her community to be kept together in order to have the opportunity to elect candidates who understand their needs. Richard Zimmerman advocated for map drawers to consider local school zones when drawing district lines. Tyler Rector criticized proposed maps that divide South Norfolk along racial lines. 

 
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Community Leaders from Southside Virginia Speak Up!

On Tuesday morning, several community leaders from Southside Virginia presented their comments on the draft maps for their counties, cities and towns. They expressed their views on which counties and cities should and should not be grouped together in a district.

Will Pace, Mayor of Chatham in Pittsylvania County, thought the Senate draft maps “look perfect” as drawn, and asked the Commission to “leave it the way it is.” Pittsylvania, Henry and Franklin Counties as well as the cities of Danville and Martinsville are all kept “whole” (in District 36 on both maps). He noted that in (both) House maps (A5, B4), Pittsylvania County is split north/south, which is preferred to an east/west split because of communities of interest. “Keeping Hurt, Gretna, and Chatham together in one (district) is great” in northern Pittsylvania County. Though not perfect, these maps are better. Pace
had one question : “Why do they keep putting Floyd County with Patrick County? Floyd should be with Montgomery County as part of the New River Valley.“ He finished with a word of wisdom to “please keep an eye on Senator Stanley,” which drew a laugh from the Commissioners.

Danny Tucker, the former Mayor of Martinsville and senior member of the Martinsville City Council spoke next. Having lived in Martinsville and working 28 years in Danville , he noted that the two cities are “totally different” with little interaction between or among residents. He would like to see a district with Martinsville and Patrick and Franklin Counties, rather than pairing Martinsville and Danville.

Wallace Hudson of South Hill in Mecklenburg County “would like us to remain the way we are in our district” now, especially regarding Halifax and Mecklenburg Counties. The current plan has “served us well in the past. Any plans to break it up” would “hurt.”

Tammy Mulchi serves on the Clarksville Town Council. She agreed with Hudson that Mecklenburg and Halifax are similar – there’s no sense to separate them. Keep those counties together. She noted that one map does separate the two localities.

Rick Buchanan echoed the two previous speakers. He was born and raised in Clarksville and has moved back there. Halifax and Mecklenburg are “tied together in lots of ways,” including industry and working environment ties. As drawn, this district on Senate map A5 goes up through Halifax and Cumberland, a “unique, rural area” and we are “all pretty much the same.” He strongly recommended keeping map A5, saying it would be very well represented by a senator.

Kathy Lawson, the Mayor of Martinsville, said she looked at the maps. Some would move Martinsville (Henry County) “into an area with Danville (Pittsylvania County). That would be a negative impact to our community.” She supports House A7 and B6 maps and Senate map B4. Those maps “align us with our colleagues in Patrick County.” [editor’s note: Both Senate maps A5 and B4 have Martinville, and Henry County in the same district as Martinsville (36), with Patrick County in a different district (39)]

Ted Daniel was town manager of South Boston in Halifax County for sixteen years, 1998-2014. He described those years as “turbulent” as they faced the closure of textile plants and the loss of tobacco economy and went into “survival mode.” Cooperation was important when facing these economic challenges. “We came together to meet the solid waste challenge” by building the Mecklenburg Regional Landfill. We share needs, values, social . To split Halifax from Mecklenburg is in no way consistent with the way they work together, including as part of the Southside Planning District.“Separation would not be in the best interest of residents.”

John Hamlin was mayor of Danville for 6 years ad served on the City Council for 20. The stoppage of textile and elimination of tobacco was a challenge. We have started to turn around the economy. “To link us with Martinsville would not be a proper thing. Martinsville is looking to go to town status; the whole ballgame would change.” He would support House maps A7 and B6.

Volpe Boykin said when redrawing districts, when possible, cities should be kept in districts as much like themselves as possible. “Rural and city people,” he said, “live different. When we have the same representative, that representative can’t represent” both groups. 

The next public hearings will be held on Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The focus will be on the following regions:
Wed. 10/6 @ 10 am : Eastern Region @ 4 pm : Central Region
Thur 10/7 @ 10 am : Valley Region @ 4 pm : West Central Region
You can view livestream here : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCm3rp8xB4H2zWbasznvZ5Fw/videos

LWV-VA Redistricting Observer Corps –

Chris DeRosa, LWV-ARL
Peggy Layne, LWV-MC

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Southwest Virginians Speak First at Public Hearings!

A dozen citizens signed on to this morning’s virtual public hearing on proposed General Assembly maps for southwest Virginia. Republican and Democratic map drawers hired by the commission were able to produce maps for this part of the state that largely agree on district lines. Current Republican State Senator David Suetterlein of District 19 (representing Floyd County, Salem City, and parts of Bedford, Carroll, Franklin, Montgomery, Roanoke, and Wythe Counties) started off the public comments with a critique of current proposed map B4 that puts his neighborhood in suburban Roanoke County just outside the city of Roanoke into a proposed district that includes more rural counties to the west and north. The vice-chair of the state Libertarian Party spoke in favor of the proposed districts including Bedford County with Botetourt County, and suggested combining Roanoke City and Roanoke County to produce a more competitive district.

Moving west, two speakers from Montgomery County advocated for a community of interest that includes the town of Blacksburg, city of Radford, and the I-81 corridor to the city of Roanoke, noting that Virginia Tech, Radford University, and the Carilion Clinic are part of an economic subregion with common employment and transportation interests. Several citizens spoke positively of the proposed districts west of Wytheville into the far southwest portions of the Commonwealth. This part of the state has seen population decline relative to the rest of the commonwealth and thus is losing a seat in the House of Delegates. Speakers included the president of Southwest Virginia Community College, a member of the Russell County Industrial Development Authority, the commonwealth attorney for Wise County, a former mayor of Abingdon, the president of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Russell County Board of Supervisors. They spoke in favor of proposed maps that respect county lines, transportation corridors, and planning districts.

Speakers noted that people in southwest Virginia often feel ignored by the more populous regions of the state and asked that the commission maintain the tradition of starting the numbering of House districts from west to east. Erin Corbett of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table asked whether the commission would be providing translation services for upcoming hearings to facilitate increased participation. Just a few hours later, the Commission announced it would be offering Spanish translation services for those who would like to contact them at

A recording of the virtual public hearing for the Southwest region should be available soon through the Virginia Redistricting Commission YouTube Channel

LWV-VA Observer Corps –
Chris DeRosa, LWV-ARL
Peggy Layne, LWV-MC

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No consensus on maps . . . Citizen comment extremely important!

The Virginia Redistricting Commission returned Saturday, October 2 for one final opportunity to put together “something” for the public to comment on at the hearings which are to begin Monday.  Presiding Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko stressed it will be extremely important for the public to comment.  By lunchtime, it was apparent that reaching consensus on one map each for the House and Senate was a “bar too high.” Babichenko cautioned, “because we agree on pieces does not mean the entire map is consensus.  These are working maps and they don’t represent a consensus. 

As the commissioners reviewed House maps A6 and B6, complaints continued about the difficulty in comparing statistics because some districts cross “regions”.  This was resolved after lunch with an analysis prepared by the Division of Legislative Services (DLS).    

There was also differing advice from the Democratic and Republican lawyers on requirements for using “opportunity districts” to ensure African Americans are able to elect candidates of their choice.  Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), speaking for the benefits of “opportunity districts”, warned that packing can dilute African American voting strength. “We don’t have to put a bunch of black folks in a district to get that opportunity.”  Co-chair Greta Harris saw independent analysis of political fairness and racial representation as a way to move forward.  She also implored citizens as they commented next week to “look to their better angels” and “consider what is good for other citizens that have been historically disenfranchised in our political system.”

Concerns were raised as to whether map drawers had included all the proposed changes so far from the Commission. Several commissioners complained about increased split jurisdictions in the newest maps. Map drawers acknowledged an attempt to eliminate pairings but weren’t sure how far to go because of public backlash.  There were questions as to why neither attempted to take into account Sen. Barker’s recommended Richmond map that could have yielded another majority-minority district.  Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville) also said the map drawers didn’t explore other changes in the Hampton Roads area for bringing districts together.  “It’s frustrating that we’re not seeing our directions on their maps.”

The possibility of heightened partisanship by the map drawers was considered.  Co-chair Babichenko strongly reminded map drawers and counsel that they are asked not to advocate for particular maps. “Now is the time for us to make decisions.”  The division between the map drawers was also evident several times as the Democratic counsel asked that Republican map drawers stick to a discussion of their own maps.

There was lengthy debate on how many maps the Commission should post for public comments; whether to use a coin toss to decide which specific maps to use; and whether to include any changes from the map drawers through the end of that day.   Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) was thanked by her fellow commissioners for introducing some optimism in the proceedings with a personal story of repeated attempts to bake a cake – and her eventual success.  

While it was hoped the final draft Commission maps would be posted by 5 p.m., Division of Legislative Services (DLS) attorney Meg Lamb expressed concerns about the agency’s ability to respond that quickly.  The result was that the Senate maps were posted as A5 and B4 and House maps as A7 and B6.  Two of the maps were dated October 2 and two were posted in the early morning hours of October 3.  The Commission website would also include links to maps submitted by the public.

MORE COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE COMMISSION MEETING FOLLOW –

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Searching for Best Way Forward!

With eight virtual public hearings scheduled to start Monday, October 4th, the Virginia Redistricting Commission met Friday, October 1st,  amid concerns expressed by presiding co-chair Greta Harris that they are “literally running out of time.”  The day’s goal was to finish maps for the Hampton Roads and Eastern regions and proceed to Central, West Central, Valley and Northern Virginia.  Progress was hampered, however, by technical issues and a substitute map drawer who was not totally up-to-speed on the progress so far. There was also time-consuming debate about how to move forward after review of each regional map.  With each party justifying their preferred versions, questions were also raised about the number of maps to put forward and what would be most helpful to the public.  

Major attention at Friday’s meeting was given to determining the number of “majority-minority districts”, as well as “coalition” and “opportunity districts” in Hampton Roads and the Central region which includes Richmond.  These were areas determined by Dr. Maxwell Palmer to have racially polarized voting (RPV).   There was considerable confusion, particularly for the Hampton Roads area as to which districts were in the “footprint” for each region, so the figures were difficult to compare. 

There was also division on whether data from the 2017 Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax election could be used to determine performance of the district or suggest “packing.”

The Commission is now returning on Saturday to complete three remaining areas. They will start at 9 a.m. and go as long as needed to finish up the maps in time for the public to review at the hearings.  

MORE COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE COMMISSION MEETING FOLLOW –

Revised A5 (Republican) and B5 (Democrat) maps had been loaded overnight Thursday by the Division of Legislative Services (DLS) and the commissioners did not have an opportunity to look at any changes before the meeting began at 8 a.m. Friday. For the first hour, the new maps were shown only on the big screen and not on their individual laptops which made it difficult to view.  A further wrinkle was that Republican map drawer John Morgan was not available and an alternative team member, Kent Stigall substituted for him.  Stigall had a few hours to review the maps but was at a disadvantage and not able to answer Commissioner questions as quickly about the new proposed map.  

Beginning with the Democrats B5 map, map drawer Ken Strasma said they had tried to work with the Republican version and made a number of changes in their B4 map in response to comments and debate, focusing on population and competitiveness.  Some districts were redrawn with an eye toward compactness.  They specifically tried to see if they could lower  the % deviation to create more opportunity in surrounding districts.  

While both map drawers referred to the two Hampton Roads maps as “substantially similar,” the Democratic counsel, Dr. Kareem Crayton expressed “grave concerns” about a pattern of “packing” in several districts. He used data from the 2017 election of African American Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax to suggest some districts were overpopulated.  Republican counsel Bryan Tyson, however, warned, “It is dangerous to use the Voting Rights Act to enforce political outcomes.  The question is whether you could have created another district?  The population is barely on the edge.  I don’t see a packing issue here.” 

The commissioners continued to frequently ask about the election results for these districts with the 2017 election of African American Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax used as an example.  Further questions were also asked about what percent creates “packing.”  Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Falls Church) Locke asked about the basis for the challenge in the Bethune-Hill court case. Republican counsel Bryan Tyson said, “It is important to remember that in the Section 2 case, it was a two-step process.  Did you include too many African Americans and then the special master reduced it.  At that point, the districts were below 50%.”  

Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) mentioned she considers Hampton Roads to be Tidewater and the Peninsula. She would like to maximize “opportunity districts” as much as possible.  “We’re getting there.  Sen. Barker has pointed out that Suffolk and Franklin are part of the Hampton Roads planning district and should be considered part of Hampton Roads.  I’m not totally unhappy with what I’ve seen so far.”   Citizen commissioner James Abrenio of Fairfax asked, “Sounds like we’re on the same page about creating another “effective opportunity district.”  Why are we not moving forward with this?”

When DLS attorney Meg Lamb asked for instructions on whether to move ahead with the Republican (A5) or Democrat (B5) map as the base for the Hampton Roads region, there was a lengthy debate on the best way to move forward. Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church began by saying he hadn’t heard any objections to the B team (Democrat) map so “let’s adopt that approach and move on up the coast.”  Co-chair Harris (Democrat) agreed, “Since there was accommodation for the Republican map on Wednesday, let’s take the Dems version today.”  Sen. McDougle objected, saying in order to move the ball forward, they should take the Strasma plan (B5) for south Hampton Roads and use the A5 version for the Peninsula.  “Split the baby.  It’s up to us to do it.”  Read more

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Sunny Day for Virginia Redistricting!

Despite the early hour, many members of the public answered the call to show up and  “speak up” at the August 23 meeting of the Virginia Redistricting Commission.  Bolstered by even more comments and emails to the Commission website, their presence was acknowledged by commissioners who spoke strongly of the need to pay attention to “what the people want.”

The 8 a.m. in-person meeting began with an introduction to the map drawers recommended by the Republican and Democratic legal counsels.  Mathematician Moon Duchin of Tufts University was introduced as a third possible consultant to both sides.  Citizen commissioner James Abrenio asked for and received a commitment from the map drawers to be objective and serve the Commission as a whole, not individual parties.

Presiding Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko then called for a vote on the starting point for map drawing. The map drawers affirmed that starting from scratch would make no difference in meeting the timeline. Citizen commissioner Sean Kumar then pointed to the “overwhelming desire of the public to start from scratch” and moved to “direct the map drawers to start from a clean slate without regard to previous maps.”  The motion was seconded by citizen commissioner Brandon Hutchins.  Despite a substitute motion from Sen. George Barker to use both existing maps and maps from scratch, the four Democratic citizen members defended Kumar’s motion forcefully and the vote for starting from a clean slate passed on a bipartisan vote 12 – 4.

The Commission Co-chairs Babichenko and Greta Harris then reaffirmed the importance of transparency as the redistricting process moved forward.  There would be no behind the scenes partisan discussions with the legal counsels and map drawers.  Some “fundamental” disagreement was expressed by legislative members, but the Co-chairs emphasized that because “this is being done as the Committee of the Whole, we have to ensure all commissioners receive all information at the same time.”  The protocol will be that questions are asked and answered only through the Co-chairs or in public at a meeting.

There was a brief discussion of the video capability for the commissioners and the public as proposed maps are considered.  Meg Lamb of the Division of Legislative Services assured the commissioners “the technical people will be able to do this.” 

After 9 members of the public spoke, the Commission went into closed session for an update by legal counsel on a lawsuit filed against the Commission over plans to count prisoners at their last known address instead of the prisons where they’re incarcerated.

MORE COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE COMMISSION MEETING, MOTIONS, AND VOTES FOLLOW.

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