2021 LWV-VA Annual Report

Power to the People

Voting is power. Although former male slaves gained the right to vote with passage of the 15th amendment, and women won the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment, it really wasn’t until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that most Black voters were able to exercise their right to vote. This year we worked to pass the Virginia Voting Rights Act to provide minority protections at the state level. 

Improved access to the ballot was critical during the pandemic so that voters could exercise their power to vote without unduly risking their health. While 45 days of No Excuse Absentee Voting was passed in 2019, new laws were added in 2021 including the requirement for registrars to cure ballots (correct errors on absentee ballot envelopes) received/postmarked by election day, paid postage for absentee ballots, and the location of drop boxes.

League members were also key to getting a first passage of a constitutional amendment to protect voting rights that are automatically restored upon release from felony incarceration. We’ll push for legislative passage a second time so that voters can choose at the ballot box next November.

We advocated for passage of campaign finance reform–which took the form of a bipartisan study whose continuance we hope will be renewed in the upcoming session. Reforms are necessary to protect the voices of all voters–not just those with the largest pocketbooks.

Covid highlighted inequities in broadband access across the state and we pushed for funding to increase internet availability so that all Virginians could have the necessary tools for jobs and schools.

While we were not able to get legislation passed to permanently remove the witness requirement from absentee ballots, we were able to get the requirement waived for elections held while the state was under a medical emergency. In the coming legislative session, we will renew our efforts to remove the barrier of a witness requirement so that voters living alone, or who have a disability, are able to cast their ballots confidently and independently. 

We supported bringing the redistricting process into the sunlight with the creation of a bipartisan, citizen-led commission. A corps of dedicated members blogged about the process and provided testimony. A few months ago, we successfully litigated to protect the 2020 law that eliminated prison gerrymandering and instead counted prisoners at their last known address rather than in a prison far from home and representation.

We are proud of our work to restore the power of the vote to Virginians and give voters more control over choosing who represents them. We invite you to join the League, renew your membership, and get involved in an issue group or one of our short-term projects. Please contact me with any questions and, if you’re able, consider making a donation to support our work.

With your support, we can continue to defend democracy and empower voters.

Deb Wake, LWV-VA President

 

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SCOVA Names Grofman, Trende as Special Masters to Draw New State Maps

The Supreme Court of Virginia November 19 named Bernard N. Grofman and Sean P. Trende to be the Special Masters tasked to  work together to draw single redistricting maps for the state’s congressional districts and the two legislative chambers.

The Court’s order noted that while the Special Masters were nominated by the General Assembly’s party leaders, they “shall serve as officers of the Court in a quasi-judicial capacity. Consequently, the Special Masters shall be neutral and shall not act as advocates or representatives of any political party.” The Court added that the Special Masters, by accepting their appointments, warranted that they had no conflicts of interest that would preclude them from “exercising independent judgment, dispassionately following the Court’s instructions, or objectively applying the government decision-making criteria.” 

The Court instructed the Special Masters to present their proposed maps “as soon as reasonably practicable,” but no later than 30 days from the Court’s order. That mandated date appears to put the deadline in the middle of the holiday season, during the week before Christmas.

The Special Masters were instructed not to “consult with any political parties, partisan organizations, outside experts, or any other person or entity except for their personal support staff, the staff of the Court, and three Division of Legislative Services staff members who supported the Virginia Redistricting Commission, Amigo Wade, Julie Smith, and Meg Lamb. But the Court encouraged the Special Masters to review “comments submitted by any entity or person to the Court’s public comment email address, Notably, the Court ordered the Special Masters to resolve “any disputes” by good-faith efforts to find a compromise consistent with governing legal requirements.” The Redistricting Commission had voted to hire two partisan map drawers who were never able to present a single, compromise map. 

The Court directed the Special Masters to comply with federal and state law in this order of precedence: the U.S. Constitution, particularly Article I, Section 2, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; applicable federal statutes, particularly the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the Virginia Constitution; and applicable Virginia statutes. In presenting that list of priorities, the Court did not include any of the additional criteria that the Redistricting Commission had voted to accept, such as preserving jurisdictional boundaries or starting the map drawing from “scratch.”

Grofman, a political science professor at the University of California at Irvine, is no stranger to redistricting in Virginia because he served as Special Master to redraw Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District in 2015 and 11 House of Delegate districts in 2018 when federal courts ruled that the 2010 redistricting process amounted to impermissible racial gerrymandering. Redrawing those districts ultimately impacted the boundaries of some 30 House of Delegate districts. 

Trende was one of three nominees put forth by the Republican leadership after the Court expressed concerns about their first three choices. Trende, a lawyer, is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics and a non-resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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Party Leaders Submit Additional Nominees to Be Special Masters

The party leaders of the General Assembly responded November 17 to the Supreme Court of Virginia’s request for the names of additional nominees to serve as special masters to redraw the state’s legislative and congressional districts.

The Republican leaders submitted three more names with a brief identification:

  • Sean Trende, senior elections analyst, RealClearPolitics and nonresident fellow, American Enterprise Institute;
  • Doug Johnson, president, National Demographics Corporation;
  • Justin Levitt, vice president, National Demographics Corporation. (Levitt is a political science professor at California State University, not the Loyola Law School professor of the same name who is now serving as a senior policy adviser on voting rights at the White House.)

The court November 12 rejected one of the Republicans’ original nominees, noting he had served as a paid consultant for the Virginia Republican Senate Caucus. It also expressed concern about the partisan background of two other nominees. The court granted a request by the Republican leaders for more time to submit names, but declined their request for a “telephone status conference” to discuss the qualifications of special masters. In that request, a lawyer for the leaders said they hoped to avoid “having their second round of nominations followed up by subsequent disqualification. . . .”

At the court’s request, the Democratic leadership also submitted the name of an additional nominee, R. Michael Alvarez, a professor of political and computational social science at Caltech, and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. The court requested an additional name after an unidentified Democratic nominee expressed concerns about following the mandates of the Virginia code, which call for partisan special masters to work together to produce the maps.

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SCoVA Rejects 1 Republican Nominee for Special Master, Seeks More Names

The judges of the Supreme Court of Virginia (SCOVA)  told the Republican leadership of the General Assembly to submit the names of three more nominees to serve as a Republican special master to redraw the state’s districts after rejecting one nominee and raising “concerns” about the other two.  In its  order issued  Friday, November 12, the court told party leaders to submit at least three new names by Monday November 15. The court also instructed Democratic leaders to submit at least one additional name after one of their nominees had expressed a reservation about the requirement that the “two Special Masters shall work together to develop any plan to submit to be submitted to the Court.”
 
The Order also further addressed the role and requirements for Special Masters.  “Although the Special Master candidates are to be nominated by legislative leaders of a particular political party, the nominees will serve as officers of the Court in a quasi-judicial capacity.  Consequently, the Special Masters must be neutral and must not act as advocates or representatives of any political party. Before being appointed, the Special Masters must warrant that they have no ‘conflicts of interest,’ Code 30-399(F), that precludes them from prudently exercising independent judgement, dispassionately follow the Court’s instructions, and objectively applying the governing decision-making criteria.”
 
In addition, the Order stated that “The Special Masters appointed by this Court will not be permitted to consult with any political parties, partisan organizations, outside experts, or any other person or entity except for their personal support staff and individuals specifically authorized by this Court.”
 
The actions by the court were in response to letters from the General Assembly’s Democratic leadership, Senate Majority Leader Dick  Saslaw,  (November 8) and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (November 10), who sought disqualification of all three of the Republican nominees.  Republican leaders had submitted their response on November 10, 2021.
 
The court’s order specifically disqualified Thomas Bryan, a statistician who had been paid a $20,000 consulting fee by the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus in September. The order said Bryan had disclosed the arrangement during the selection process, and the court concluded that it represented a conflict. The court also expressed concerns about the other two GOP nominees, Adam Kinkaid, executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, and Adam Foltz, who has done redistricting work for Republicans in other states. The court did not disclose which of the Democratic nominees had expressed reservations about serving. 
 
 

 

 

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Supreme Court of Virginia Announces Nominees for Special Master

On November 4, the Supreme Court of Virginia announced the six nominees for Special Master which were submitted by the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate.  The House and Senate caucuses coordinated and nominated the same three people to serve as special master.  The following are excerpts from the information available in full on the new SCoVA “Redistricting Information” web page.

The nominees for special master from the Democratic Caucuses are –

  •  Dr. Bernard Grofman, Ph.D. – “Dr. Grofman is the Jack W. Peltason Endowed Chair, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Adjunct Professor of Economics at the University of California, Irvine.  He has extensive experience serving as a court-appointed special master for drawing both state legislative and congressional maps, including in Virginia, having served as special master to courts in drawing Virginia congressional districts in 2015 and House of Delegates districts in 2018.  He has a degree in mathematics and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago.”
  • Dr. Nathaniel Persily, Ph.D. – “Dr. Persily is the James B. McClatchy Professor of Law at Stanford Law School.  He has extensive experience serving as a court-appointed special master for drawing both state legislative and congressional maps in numerous states across the country.  He is most recently the author of Solutions to Polarization (Cambridge, 2015), a scholarly book addressing the problem of political polarization.”
  • Dr. Bruce Cain, Ph.D. – “Dr. Cain is the Charles Louis Ducommun Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment and at Stanford University, and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment an at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.  He served as a court-appointed special master to draw state legislative districts in Arizona in 2002 and has served as a redistricting consultant to a number of government agencies, including the Attorney General of Maryland.”

The Republican Caucuses nominated –

  • Thomas Bryan – “Mr. Bryan is an applied demographic research professional who holds a Masters in Management and Information Systems from George Washington University and a Masters in Urban Studies with a focus on Demography and Statistics from Portland State University.  He previously worked as a statistician in the United States Census Bureau during the 2000 cycle where he developed small area population and housing unit estimates.  He founded his own demographic analysis consulting firm in 2001 (BryanGeoDemographics) and has provided advanced analytic expertise to more than 150 bipartisan clients over the last two decades, including litigation support and expert witness services in many state and local redistricting cases.”
  • Adam Kincaid – “Mr. Kincaid holds a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Georgia.  He previously worked as Redistricting Coordinator for the National Republican Congressional Committee following the 2010 Census, and currently serves as Executive Director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust and Fair Lines America where he advocates for fair maps constructed using traditional redistricting criteria.”
  • Adam Foltz – “Mr. Foltz has extensive experience in the mechanics of redistricting at the state level, having served as the primary redistricting map drawer for the Wisconsin State Assembly Republican Caucus during the 2011-12 cycle.  During his eight-year tenure as Policy Advisor to Wisconsin Sente Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, he also gained relevant experience in preparing the state’s legal defense against challenges to adopted maps.  He now works as a Legislative Analyst for the Texas Legislative Council, where he is working with a bipartisan group of Members to draft new maps.”

In his letter to SCoVA submitting the nominees, Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw also called on the Court to maintain maximum transparency and public access.  A commenting system with online viewing like what he suggested has already been implemented.  Senator Saslaw also “proposed the special masters request public hearings in at least four regions of the Commonwealth to afford an opportunity for public comment on those proposed maps.”  The Senate Democratic Caucus also “respectfully requested that the Court adopt a formal briefing schedule that will allow the majority and minority leadership in the General Assembly, and other individuals or organizations, to lay their concerns before the Court and respond to each other’s arguments in a timely and orderly fashion.”

The new “Redistricting Information” page instructs the public, including elected officials, to participate in the Court’s redistricting deliberations through submission of written comments to the Clerk of the Supreme Court of Virginia and reference the “Rules and Procedures for Implementing the Requirements of Article II, Section 6-A.”  Comments must be sent to .  All public comments will be available for viewing online and several have already been posted.  The page will also include Court orders.

 

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Commission Stalled on Congressional District Maps!

The problem of “partisan fairness” was again front and center at the Virginia Redistricting Commission meeting on Wednesday, October 20.  After Monday’s meeting where lack of a quorum prevented conducting business and voting, the agenda provided time for additional public comments and then turned to a presentation of Congressional district maps.

Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) began by offering map #349 submitted by Katherine Kline, a member of the public. “I like the way it configured Northern Virginia and it did get us close to what Senator Barker and others feel is a fair outcome.” There were concerns, however, that it had been called a Democratic gerrymander. This was followed by the revised C1 maps from the Democratic (C1-B) and Republican map drawers (C1-A).  The co-chairs had asked them to consider public comments and have another try at the maps.

As each team provided the data on the partisan make-up of the districts, the problem of comparing “apples to apples” was frequently raised and the “math” of the opposing party was frequently challenged. There were several unsuccessful attempts by Sen. George Barker (D-Alexandria) to negotiate with numbers that he had run. Sen. Barker also reminded the commissioners that there have been many changes in Virginia’s maps over the last decade and the districts aren’t locked in for the next decade.  The definition of “fair” was clearly in the eye of the beholder.

The map drawers then presented their newest congressional district maps – the Democratic team’s B5 (#423) and the Republican team’s A5 (#422). They had been directed by the co-chairs to produce the “fairest maps.”  Democratic team Ken Strasma and Zach Coomes said that they used map #315 which had been submitted by citizen Joel Galloway as their “footprint.”  Strasma said because there was no clear consensus about ‘partisan fairness’ they analyzed election results from 2012-2018 in which Virginia swung back and forth in different years.” They calculated if a congressional district is likely to be stronger or weaker compared to any year. They determined 50.5% was the ‘tipping point’.  They explained their analyses through graphs and shared a memorandum. Dr. Kareem Crayton said that map B5 is “politically fair, slightly higher for Democrats than Republicans, but only slightly higher.”

Republican team map drawer John Morgan followed with map A5 (#422) which he said was based on a map Sen. McDougle submitted earlier. Sen. Simon suggested it “is essentially the Tom Davis map [Jason Torshinsky/National Republican Redistricting Trust] that was submitted earlier but that was denied by Republican attorney Bryan Tyson.

Citizen commissioner Sean Kumar then pointed out, “We have 30 minutes left today and a hearing scheduled Friday with no maps to really look at. We’re seeing 5-5-1 maps that probably aren’t going to pass and 5-4-2 maps that probably aren’t going to pass.  We still don’t have any consensus as to what kind of data we should be using to assess the makeup of those maps. We need to do that before we continue.” 

Motions were made and votes taken on 5-5-1 and 5-4-2 maps and they both failed along partisan lines. It then became clearer that the Commission wouldn’t be able to reach consensus by the public hearing scheduled for Friday, October 22.  It was also less hopeful that their next meeting on Monday, October 25 would clear the way for them to submit a Congressional district map to the General Assembly. Comments from individual commissioners included:

  • “I’m not a quitter. We owe it to the people of the Commonwealth to fight this out until the end.”
  • “The structure of this Commission made building consensus almost impossible.”
  • “Let’s come back after the election to see if it’s skewed one way or the other.”
  • “The bureaucracy and unfortunate partisanship of the Commission wins, and we’re done.”
  • “I don’t see the point of going round and round. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expecting different outcomes.”
  • “We can’t agree, but the maps are already much better than the maps I’ve seen before.”
  • “Even though the Amendment is deeply flawed, we’ll see what the Court does.”

In the end, the public hearing scheduled for Friday, October 22 and the Monday, October 25 Commission meeting were canceled. The Commission, however, left the door open should two commissioners (one Democrat and one Republican) be able to work together to resolve the “partisan fairness” issue.  Del. Simon made a motion to adjourn to reconvene upon the joint call of the two-co-chairs and the motion passed unanimously. If there should be a successful bi-partisan resolution of how to “fairly” allocate the number of congressional districts by party, another Commission meeting will be called, and public hearing scheduled.

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

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C1 Congressional District Map and Partisan Fairness

The Virginia Redistricting Commission met Monday, October 18 but, without a quorum present, no business could be conducted, or votes taken. The meeting instead began with comments, many negative, from fifteen citizens who were concerned about the impact on their communities of the Commission’s C1 map.

The commissioners then took advantage of the “down time” to be outspoken about their views.  Their “no holds barred” comments included strong criticism of the other party’s intentions.  They began with Del. Marcus Simon’s (D-Falls Church) accusations that the Republican maps may have been “actually drawn by the National Republican Redistricting Trust (NRRT).  Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Chatham) then criticized Del. Simon for making an “accusation like collusion” just because two out of eleven districts are identical.  Sen. Stanley suggested he could “make the accusation that this Delegate (Simon) was put on this Commission to ‘blow it up’ since he was opposed to this Commission.” When the charged atmosphere ebbed, Del. Margaret Ransone (R-Kinsale) expressed hope that “we get the train back on the tracks.”

After Del. Ransone’s call to start talking about maps, the discussion turned to how to adjust for partisan fairness. Both counsels agreed the U.S. Supreme Court will not hear cases on partisan gerrymandering and there is no Virginia case law to guide the Commission.  They presented their analyses of Commission map C1 with Democrat Dr. Kareem Crayton calculating that C1 includes five Republican districts, five Democratic, and one leaning Democratic. Crayton also said, “we should hopefully all be able to agree that when a majority of the people of Virginia express a preference for a political party, the map should at least reflect a majority of seats for that party.” He also presented a report from the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) on criteria for partisan fairness in other states. 

The Republican lawyers had prepared a memorandum which was available to the commissioners shortly before their meeting. Counsels Chris Bartolomucci and Bryan Tyson gave their opinion that map C1, if adopted, would not violate Virginia statute because Virginia Code does not expressly demand “proportional representation” – awarding the two major political parties a number of congressional districts proportional to their share of the vote in statewide elections.

Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville) pointed out, “When we come back on Wednesday, we will have to come to consensus on what the language means as we go through the other criteria.” In response to a question about how to direct the map drawers to resolve some of the citizen comments about map C1, Del. Simon suggested “nothing stops us from sending an email to the co-chairs and staff asking for things for the next meeting.”

This next meeting of the Commission will be Wednesday, October 20 at 8 a.m.  There is also a virtual public hearing scheduled for Friday, October 22, but a decision on whether to move ahead with that hearing will be decided Wednesday when there is a quorum.

 

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

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“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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