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.


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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.



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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.


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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 for further news. 

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Commission Attempts to Move Forward After Public Hearings

The Virginia Redistricting Commission meeting on Friday, October 8 began with anticipation as Commissioners met to consider public comments from four days of hearings.  Presiding Co-chair Greta Harris indicated they would have a dialog around correspondence from several legislators; and come to agreement on data and definitions; with the bulk of the day and evening trying to get to a single map for the House and another for the Senate.

The first hour of public comments had some technical issues and confusion from citizens who thought they would be listening not testifying. Harris thanked them and indicated the Commission would check back later in the day to provide further opportunity to comment for those who had signed up.   She was grateful for the hundreds of pages of comments from the past week.

The meeting then continued for the morning with Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) explaining a memorandum he had sent commissioners the night before and subsequent discussion with the legal counsels about minority districts.  As attention turned to reviewing the draft maps, some were caught off guard when they learned a new map (B5) had been posted to the Commission website.  Republican commissioners refused to consider B5 without personally having more time to review it and Democrats said it made no sense to return to B4 and repeat the changes that have already been made in B5.

Our coverage of the October 8 meeting continues with a separate post, “Meeting Ends Abruptly as Three Citizen Commissioners Leave Room.”


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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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Will the Commissioners Be in a Social Studies Textbook One Day?

“Unite Blacksburg, Montgomery County and Christiansburg in one district!” The call was made by residents Peggy Layne and Elizabeth Obenshain and echoed by six additional speakers at the last commission hearing on draft House and Senate district maps.  Catherine Koebel even offered to submit her GPS tracking data and life tracking data as proof of the incredible connectedness of Roanoke and the New River Valley.  Carla Heath and James Enoch also spoke up for not dividing Lynchburg.  Focusing on the “West Central” region, the meeting on October 7 was chaired by citizen commissioner Virginia Trost-Thornton of Forest.  

Da’Quan Love, Executive Director of the State Conference of the NAACP, pointed out “there are now only three majority-minority black Senate districts, backsliding 40% from 2011. We want to get on record that the Commission needs to explain their rationale and force discussion about this important issue.”  Several others spoke of the growing Hispanic population in the region. Edward Strickler of Farmville expressed concern that the contribution of rural areas wasn’t taken into account and that the Commission should be working “on behalf of the commonwealth, not just the wealth of the Commonwealth.”

There were 20 speakers in all, with five strongly urging the Commission to ensure competitive districts by looking to analysis by Sam Wang of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and Moon Duchin of Tufts University’s MGGG Redistricting Lab. 

There were several heartfelt calls for the Commission to “continue to work to do the right thing.”  Amy O’Callahan , a full-time working Mom spoke for the many Virginians who weren’t able to attend in person.  “Please know that so many people care whether they’re able to represent themselves at these meetings or not.”  She also commented, “You know it’s really cool you guys are probably going to be in a social studies text book one day. What are our kids going to learn from this exercise? . . . Please let me teach my kids that fairness is an aspiration that we can still reach for here in the Commonwealth.”


Peggy Layne lives in Blacksburg, grew up in Lynchburg and also lived in Arlington.  She advocated for passage of the Constitutional amendment and has watched almost every one of the Commission meetings.  “One thing I’ve learned over the past month is that it’s very difficult to balance all of the criteria that you all have to consider to achieve fair maps.  At your first round of hearings, I spoke to urge you to unite Blacksburg and Montgomery County. We’re currently divided into two 2 Senate districts and three House districts.  The draft maps make some progress in that direction by uniting the town of Blacksburg so that the Virginia Tech campus is no longer split between two House districts.  But the commission’s map drawers continued to split Montgomery County, the largest population center west of Roanoke into three House districts.  I understand how challenging it is to meet the population criteria and lines have to be drawn somewhere but Blacksburg, Radford and Christiansburg should be kept together as much as possible.  The city and the two towns form a core of jobs, shopping and culture for the region.”

“I also support Senate map B4, specifically District 37 that combines Blacksburg, Radford and Christiansburg with the city of Roanoke.  Yes it’s ugly, but contrary to what a speaker at a previous hearing said we do form a community of interest. Radford University, Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Biomedical Research Center are major economic drivers for the region.  Montgomery county has little in common with Bath or Highland County other than our natural beauty. The proposed maps that combine the university communities into districts with surrounding rural areas don’t allow our voice to be heard.”

“I know that some commissioners don’t trust anything that comes out of the university but I encourage you to consider the analysis and suggestions provided by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.  Their comments are focused on ensuring overall fairness by creating competitive districts and providing opportunities for all citizens of our increasingly diverse Commonwealth to be heard. The open memo from Professor Sam Wang provides concrete suggestions for compromise that could bring your draft maps together. You all have my admiration and respect for all you’ve done to get up and running and actually produce maps.  I’ve been disappointed to see partisanship erupt at some of your meetings but on the whole I’m tremendously grateful for the commitment that you’ve shown to doing what’s right for the citizens of Virginia. You’ve come so far don’t give up now.  Thank you.”

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