On Friday, December 17, the Supreme Court of Virginia (SCoVA) held the second and final scheduled virtual public hearing on the redistricting maps proposed by the Court’s Special Masters. As at the first hearing on Wednesday, all seven Justices could be seen in the courtroom and the two Special Masters were also listening. Sixty-six individuals registered and 51 actually spoke at this final hearing bringing the total for the two days to over 100 members of the public that provided input.
Robert N. Barnette, Jr., President of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, was first to speak. “It is particularly important that the Court hear and consider the views of Black communities and other communities of color who have long been disenfranchised, discriminated against, and excluded from meaningful participation in Virginia’s redistricting process.” He expressed concern that the Special Masters used American Community Survey (ACS) data in analyzing whether Black voters would have the ability to elect candidates of choice in specific districts. “ACS data routinely and often significantly undercounts Black voting age population.” The NAACP recommended the Special Masters “use 2020 Census data when determining Black voters’ ability to elect candidates of choice under their proposed redistricting plans.” He suggested it is unclear if the Special Masters analyzed the precincts to determine how they would have performed in past elections. “The Special Masters must conduct a precinct reconstruction analysis and publicize this analysis, including which elections were used in conducting this analysis.” He also asked that additional public hearings be held on any revised versions of the initial Special Masters maps before their adoption by the Court. NOTE: Barnette’s time expired but the NAACP’s full written comments and recommended maps of Black communities of interest are available on the SCoVA Redistricting Information web page.
Testifying later in the hearing, Phillip Thompson, Executive Director of the National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization, said he understands it’s a difficult process but overall the NBNRO “believes this is a decent job.” He mentioned opportunity districts, especially for the Senate. He agreed, however, with Barnette that Black population data should be looked at again and analyzed more deeply to make sure of the opportunities for minorities. In addition, the NBNRO does not support looking at incumbent addresses, but they are concerned that four Senators have been paired including African Americans, Sen. Lionell Spruill and Sen. Louise Lucas. Similar to testimony on Wednesday, several other members of the public expressed concern about the packing of Black voters into CD4.
Five speakers briefly mentioned concern about the impact of the redistricting on women incumbents. Two asked that SCoVA continue to ignore incumbent addresses.
The larger focus for the afternoon was on the various regions of the Commonwealth with the majority of testimony on central Virginia. More attention than previously, however, was given to Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. U.S. Congressman Morgan Griffith of the 9th District also spoke about the importance of Salem and west Roanoke County being in the 9th Congressional District.
For the second day, a large number of people spoke about the problems with the fragmentation of central Virginia. They were against the break-up of their “Communities of Interest (COIs)” related to the movement of Congressional District 7 from the Richmond suburbs and central Virginia to Prince William and Stafford Counties in Northern Virginia.
Western Chesterfield would move from the 7th Congressional District to the 5th. Western Henrico and Goochland Counties, also formerly in the 7th, would move to the 1st District. This time, however, an estimated 18 speakers from Henrico, Chesterfield and Goochland Counties added they felt their concerns were addressed by “the Farkas map.” This map was submitted to SCoVA by the Elias Law Group following the hearing Wednesday. The firm represents “James Farkas, a Virginia voter who successfully challenged the General Assembly’s unconstitutional racial gerrymander of the congressional map following the last census.” [The “Farkas map” was later questioned by Steven Thomas, another member of the public, who cautioned against the map as a Democratic gerrymander.]
Other speakers from the immediate Richmond area included Rusty Tutton of Midlothian in Chesterfield who felt the Special Masters’ maps were generally fair and equitable but did not treat the greater Richmond area fairly. Representatives wouldn’t be able to spend much time in their districts because they are so large and far flung. He held up maps to the camera, which can be viewed on pages 1801-1806 of the “Public Comments” section of SCoVA’s “Redistricting Information” web page.
Steve Baker of Arlington thanked the Special Masters for their dedication to compactness and their efforts to keep COIs together. He then spoke of the natural boundaries that the Special Masters missed when drawing the Congressional Districts. The coastal tidewater region reaches to Henrico County. CD 4 could be extended to Suffolk which is truly southside. It would be better to leave eastern Henrico in CD1 and western in CD5 which has more in common with Chesterfield.
Phyllis Tessieri did not support the Special Masters’ maps because “they risk dampening democracy rather than strengthening it. Minorities are underrepresented now and see few people that look like them as representatives.”
Three speakers expressed concern that Albemarle County is divided between two Congressional Districts in the proposed maps – the 5th and the 10th. Brandon Turner said the maps are more compact but need reworking to give communities of interest the same respect in all regions of the Commonwealth.
Theresa Hepier lives in the Redfields development one mile outside Charlottesville and asked that Redfields be included in House District 54. The Special Masters maps have placed her community in HD55. She also mentioned she was lucky to have a job where she can take time to testify because good representation is important to her.
Amelia County Supervisor Roger Scott was concerned about the separation of Amelia County from the greater Richmond metro area as they have more in common with Richmond than Lynchburg and southside Virginia. Amelia County is not considered “rural” by the USDA and has a higher income level than the rest of proposed CD5. His comments were echoed by Lauren Whittington and Helen Warriner-Burke who asked that Amelia voters be put back where they belong in the capital region.
Amy Huml said “Putting Louisa County in Congressional District 1 would combine communities with little in common and would make services more difficult for citizens.
Patricia Ranney added, “Splitting of Louisa County seems arbitrary and causes problems with medical care.” Melvin Burruss said the Special Masters maps don’t fairly deliver representation to the black population in Louisa County by separating heavily black areas and precincts.
Jennifer Heinz of Locust Grove in Orange County spoke against moving Orange County from CD7 to CD10 with Loudoun County. “Orange has nothing in common with Loudoun County.” Several additional Locust Grove residents were also concerned that Orange County is split into two House of Delegates districts and “it is better to align them with Culpeper and Madison.” Joseph Freeland suggested if the county must be divided that the split be based on the Board of Supervisors proposed voting districts with 1 and 3 in HD62 and 2,4, and 5 in HD63.
Ankit Jain of Vienna requested bringing population from Fairfax into Senate District 32 to provide for a stronger Asian opportunity district and removing Brambleton from S32 to unite that community. He suggested protecting minority interests is more important than “nesting” districts. Jain also asked that SCoVA order revised maps that address the many public comments.
Aaron Yohai is chair of the Braddock District Democratic Committee in Fairfax. He recommended the Special Masters move Wakefield in Annandale from HD15 to HD14 to unify the common zip code and school attendance. He also asked that Kings Park West be united under one Delegate and one Senator. “ Burke Center is another COI that is haphazardly divided but could easily be fixed to increase the quality of representation by swapping Robinson and Fairview precincts.”
Ted Bloechle of Tyson’s Corner submitted recommended changes to three areas of the Special Masters’ maps which are available through the SCoVA “Redistricting Information” page. His proposal in Northern Virginia, based on feedback from Mount Vernon citizens, would shift the 8th Congressional District south; in central Virginia he would avoid the split in Albemarle County by moving it and Charlottesville wholly into the 10th District; and in Hampton Roads, he would move Chesapeake and Northeast Norfolk into Congressional District 2 and the portion of the 2nd beyond the Great Dismal Swamp into the 3rd.
Genie McCreery asked, “Please keep Mt. Vernon together. The Special Masters’ maps split Mt. Vernon and couples it with Springfield.” Cathy Hosek of the Mt. Vernon Council of Citizens Associations testified that McCreery and Ted Bloechle “nailed it!” They have just finished their magisterial redistricting and Springfield was not considered part of their Community of Interest.
Fran Larkins extended thanks to SCoVA and the Special Masters for keeping the city of Fredericksburg whole in all three maps; for recognizing the “Greater Fredericksburg” community of interest in the new compact S27; and for not dividing her community in HD65. She also asked they continue to ignore incumbent addresses.
Steven Thomas of Fairfax and long-time resident of Spotsylvania expressed concerns about splitting up of the Fredericksburg region “at the altar of Northern Virginia.” He suggested putting Loudoun and Prince William Counties in the 7th Congressional District but Stafford County and Fredericksburg together with the Piedmont counties in the 10th. Thomas also cautioned against the Elias group map as a Democratic gerrymander.
Andria McClellan, Norfolk City Council member, asked that Congressional District 2 be reconsidered to include part of Norfolk. Adding part of Norfolk to CD2 and returning Suffolk and the Isle of Wight to Congressional District 3 would keep the military community in Norfolk and Virginia Beach together and strengthen minority representation.
Brian Budenholzer of Virginia Beach concurred with Councilwoman McClellan and added the proposed CD2 is not compact or contiguous. Hampton Roads has been split and Norfolk and Virginia Beach communities of interest have the same concern.
Jacob Levy of Norfolk, a third-year law student at Georgetown, agreed because it “better preserves communities of interest which strengthens minority representation and improves compactness and contiguity.”
Maurice Hawkins, U.S. Air Force veteran, and John Gadzinski, a Navy veteran, both spoke of the importance to the military community of keeping Virginia Beach and Norfolk together. “They have much in common economically and environmentally.”
Victoria Nicholls of Chesapeake lives in the Greenbrier area on the border with Virginia Beach. Her problem is they have been moved into Portsmouth in SD19 when they should be with Virginia Beach in SD18. “They have nothing in common with Portsmouth!”
U.S. Congressman Morgan Griffith of the 9th District spoke about the importance of keeping Salem and west Roanoke County in the 9th. “While the population of the Roanoke Valley requires it be divided in some fashion, the Special Masters lack an understanding of the region. Many of my constituents are shocked that Salem and west Roanoke County are out and Bedford is now in the 9th. Bedford is in the Lynchburg MSA and it’s community of interest is oriented east towards Lynchburg and not toward Roanoke. It is also east of the Blue Ridge and not part of the Appalachian region.”
“The Special Masters also mistakenly believe the cities of Salem and Roanoke must be together. They don’t. The two cities have vastly different histories. Salem was founded in 1802 and became a city in 1969 to prevent being annexed out of existence by Roanoke City. The Virginia annexation moratorium was created by delegates representing Salem and west Roanoke County to prevent encroachment by Roanoke City. In a hotly contested race in 2010, one of the major issues was “Could or should Salem be a part of the 9th?” A majority of the voters said “Yes.” SCoVA should respect the will of the voters who said Salem and west Roanoke County should be in the 9th Congressional District.”
William Pace, mayor of Chatham, testified that Senate District 9 is good but they should consider adding Hurt to House District 48. Hurt and Chatham are both in Pittsylvania County. “The 5th CD is not perfect, but with the primary in March, time is not on our side so it should be left as is.”
Prelaw student at William and Mary, is the son of immigrants and politically active. He felt communities should be based on cultures rather than county lines and districts should be independent based on voters not candidates. New communities should be engaged – the disenfranchised, young people, the disabled, and Muslim
Andre Tolleris of Richmond spoke up for proportional voting based on the percentage of vote share. We now create inequity with lines around regions that exist only on maps. Political lines allow manipulation of votes.