A Mix of Comments from the Shenandoah Valley and Beyond

The 7th of eight public hearings on the draft legislature maps was chaired by citizen commissioner Mackenzie Babichenko. Once again, translators were available if needed.   Six citizen commissioners and seven legislator commissioners were present to listen to public comments.

Speakers spoke about a variety of topics, including maps for the Valley Region, minority representation, partisan gerrymandering, and the district numbering system. 

Timothy Jost of Rockingham County described House map B6, district 72 as “good”, combining a mix of urban/suburban and rural areas.  Currently this area is divided into four different House districts, which is very confusing.  Education, manufacturing and retail are important in the “lower eastern part” whereas the upper part of Rockingham is more rural with important agriculture, poultry and cattle industries.  House map B6, district 69 could be improved by moving district 72 to the east, and taking the western part of 72 and adding it to 69.  This revised District 72 would be over 40% non-white, so it could be considered an opportunity district.  Jost mentioned support of Janet Trettner’s remarks regarding renumbering districts so that House, Senate and Congressional map numbers would not be duplicated.

Leslie Tate is aware of communities and land use development patterns as a senior planner in community development in Augusta County, and leader of the local redistricting efforts.  She approved of Senate maps which keeps Augusta County whole.  She would like to see one House district for Augusta County as well.  Draft  B5 and B6 maps for the House places northeast Augusta communities with Albemarle in district 81.  These communities are separated by a mountain; they are different in many ways.  She cited American Community Survey data that shows higher household income and higher education attainment in Albemarle, and less employment in manufacturing.  “The A maps put NE Augusta with Rockingham, which is preferred because they are linked by transportation routes, share many socio-economic factors, and together form one of the largest agricultural regions of the state.  Going back to B5 and B6 maps, she criticized the north-south split – communities are not conveniently separated by this split.  A maps are better for Augusta County.

Edgar Lara, a member of multiple statewide coalitions, focused on Winchester where he has family.  Like other valley communities, Winchester has a growing immigrant community – currently it is split into three districts.  He would like it to be kept whole.   Going on to Waynesboro, where he has lived for 20 years, he stated that Senate A5 map makes sense for Staunton, Harrisonburg and Waynesboro.  For the House, he prefers the “Virginia Counts Coalition” map.  He would like to see a more compact Congressional district for the northern Valley region.

Allen Louderback, a former Delegate who participated in the last redistricting cycle, expressed appreciation for the Commission’s hard work.  He wants to keep districts as compact as possible so there will be less confusion.  When he was a delegate, voters were confused because the district he represented had small parts of Winchester City and Frederick County.  He has a concern about the Senate B4 map which has District 26 broken up into segments.  He said it makes more sense to keep it as is instead of splitting it up.  Page has nothing in common with Frederick and Loudoun Counties, he said, yet they are combined in one district on one map.  He concluded by saying he doesn’t want to see “salamanders.”

Peter Van Acker said he had “nothing brilliant to say,” but encouraged the Commission to remain apolitical and to respect cultural and geographical boundaries as much as possible.  “That’s why people supported this commission.”  He would have preferred to have no politicians on the Commission.   He echoed concerns expressed by Ms. Tate about Augusta County, Staunton, Wayneboro and Greene County.

Other speakers addressed maps for other areas of the state.  Some commented on map numbers, political fairness, and minority representation.

Janet Trettner of Keezletown (Rockingham County), wanted to make three points.  First, she said, the district numbering system is confusing – all House, State Senate, and Congressional districts start with the number 1; thus, many districts have the same “name” or number, rather than a distinct name/number.  For example, Rockingham County has House and Senate districts identified as #26.  Her suggestion to the Commission is to start with 1 for Congressional districts (1-11), 100 for House districts (100-199), and 200 for State Senate districts (200-239).   Continuing on, Trettner said,  “As much as we like our neighbors to the east, mountains separate Rockingham and Albemarle.  Current maps cross the mountains.”  She echoed Mr. Jost’s comments about District 69.  She stated that Harrisonburg and surrounding areas are one community and should be kept together. 

Cathy Hosek of the Mt. Vernon Council of Citizen Associations (MVCCA) (Fairfax County) described her neighborhood as eastern Fairfax between Rt 1 and the Potomac River.  Both House maps A7 and B6 split her community in different ways.  She would like to see a district that extends south from Alexandria City to Ft. Belvoir.  The Rt. 1 corridor is developing into a “main street” instead of functioning as a commuter route.   She stated that the city of Alexandria has “nothing in common” with the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County which should not be grouped in a district with the city.

Richard Zimmerman expressed appreciation for the public service of the Commissioners. Describing himself as a 50-year voter, 7-year resident of Harrisonburg, and a public school teacher, he suggested that map drawers consider school district boundaries since people choose to live in communities where their children will be educated.  “People move into school districts, not precincts,” he explained.  He began to refer to language differences, “Russian-speaking and German-speaking” populations when his screen froze.  He did not rejoin the zoom to complete his remarks.

Miranda Galindo, senior counsel for the Latino Justice PRLDEF  (Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund) Southeast Region Office, provided information about the growing Latino population in Virginia.  She said she is closely monitoring the redistricting process to protect Latino rights and Latino communities of interest.  She noted that the Latino population in Virginia has increased 44% during the past decade.  There are now a quarter-million Spanish-speaking people living in every area of Virginia; that equals 11% of Virginia’s total population.  Arlington and Alexandria have experienced substantial population growth; Manassas and the Prince William area population increased by 30%; Dale City + 45%; Richmond +85% increase.  From Richmond to Virginia Beach, the average increase in Latino population is 65%.  The Commission “must not ignore or divide this population”, which is “younger than most populations.”  They should “be able to participate in the process without language barriers.”  She applauded the recent availability of translators, but it was too late, and she heard complaints about not being allowed enough time (about 1 extra minute) for translations.  PRLDEF is monitoring federal law compliance regarding language access and opportunities for minorities to elect candidates of their choice.

David Sparkman, a newspaper publisher in Frederick County, suggested that they needed to look at the “length of boundaries to avoid gerrymandering.”  He stated that he’s “hearing a lot about protecting minorities; that is not American, we are integrating society and need to look for contested elections, not protection.”  He suggested that these maps are a “protection racket” to protect elected officials, which is “not the way American works.”  “Politicians are temporary” as “America changes opinions.”  He suggested that we should “build a structure system into the future.” 

Nancy Almasi lives in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County. She voted in support of the commission, “believing that citizens would provide checks and balances on elected officials, but all I hear about is how maps are drawn on racial and political lines.”  She asked the Commission to “focus on what unites us; draw districts with commonalities.”  “More competitive districts means we elect better leaders,” which is “a win for everyone.”

Scott Filling of Fauquier County, stated that Senate map B4 “favors Democrats,” and that lots of districts were drawn “for no other purpose than politics.”  He agreed with comments today about racial gerrymandering, and cautioned that the Commission needs to “take a slow long look at the process for fair and equal terms for growth of all ethnic groups,” and the need for “fair treatment for all.”

Melissa Beaudoin of Mason district in Fairfax County, a former elected official and political scientist, is “looking for the Commission to embrace fairness.”  When she saw maps that increased the number of “Democratic districts from 30 to 37,” she felt she had to speak up “against unjust gerrymandering.”  She criticized Senate map B4 and House map B6 as favoring Democrats, creating districts “for politics.”  She described Senate District 32 as a “winged dinosaur” drawn “from Halifax to Goochland to pack Republicans.”  She criticized Arlington and Alexandria as “split more than necessary to spread Democrat votes.”  She described the House map as “repugnant.” 

Erin Corbett of the VCET (Virginia Civic Engagement Table) has learned, through her work with coalition partners, that there is a lot of “misunderstanding of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and “packing and cracking.”  She was concerned about comments regarding the “interpretation of the VRA for protecting communities of color.”  “If you are watching and listening,” you will know that “ensuring that communities of color can elect candidates of their choice is not partisan.” She reminded listeners that VCET is nonpartisan and nonpolitical. 

You may view proposed maps submitted by Commission map drawers and citizens and groups.  You may also comment on the maps.

Commission meetings and hearings can be found on the Commission website.  All meetings are “open to the public” – the public may attend in person or virtually.

The Commission plans to meet on Friday, October 8, Saturday, October 9 (tentative), and Monday, October 11 to finalize maps for the House of Delegates and State Senate.

 

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Central Region Residents Give Feedback on Maps

Nearly 40 people signed up to speak at the Wednesday afternoon hearing.  Eighteen were able to join and speak to the Commissioners.  Most hailed from Charlottesville and Albemarle County.  Seven of eight legislator commissioners were in attendance, as well as two citizen commissioners.

Most of the speakers requested that the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County be kept together in one legislative district because of their shared interests and activities.  They mentioned that Fluvanna, Nelson or Greene counties could be connected to get more population as they are neighboring jurisdictions and belong to the same regional planning district (#10).  Several expressed concerns about Albemarle districts crossing over the mountains into more rural Augusta County.

There were also a few speakers from Henrico County. One mentioned maps that separates the Asian community in Henrico.   Other speakers requested that college and university campuses not be split into different districts; still others made suggestions for redrawing Congressional districts.

Eleven speakers hailed from the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle , Buckingham and Greene Counties.

Kay Slaughter, former mayor and city council member in Charlottesville, asked the Commission to not gerrymander Albemarle County.  She noted that House map A7 (drawn by Republican mapdrawer, John Morgan) divides Albemarle into three districts; Albemarle does not form a “community of interest” with Augusta County.  Map B6 shows 2 districts for Albemarle, with one district (81) crossing the mountains (into Augusta County).  She suggested getting population from Nelson, Fluvanna or Greene Counties instead.  These counties are part of the same planning district, #10.  Residents commute for work, medical care, shopping and cultural activities.  Augusta is more connected to the Valley, and Lynchburg to others.  In closing, Slaughter noted the death of Mr. Leigh Middleditch, a longtime resident and civic leader of Albemarle, who promoted nonpartisan redistricting reform for a long time.  “He would’ve asked you to apply non-gerrymandering to his beloved Albemarle.”

Michael Rodemeyer noted that Albemarle County is currently divided into 4 different House districts (57-59, and 25).  He made a plea to keep Albemarle together, saying it had more in common with Charlottesville than neighboring rural areas. He echoed Slaughter’s concern about Albemarle being in same district as Augusta County.  He closed by thanking the Commissioners for their time, noting that it’s a difficult and sometimes thankless job.  But “do the job voters sent you to do; preserve fair districts for voters rather than politicians.  You have the power.”

Elly Tucker, who has lived in Charlottesville/Albemarle Co for 45 years, thanked the Commissioners for their work. She described Charlottesville and Albemarle residents going to the same markets, shopping mall and music events without saying “I’m going to Charlottesville” or “I’m going to Albemarle.”  She asked both sides to work together for one set of maps, keeping Charlottesville and Albemarle together as one Community of Interest.  She criticized map A7 as splitting Albemarle 3 ways, and B6 as better with only 2 districts for Albemarle.  She criticized current Congressional District 5 as “terrible” and asked  that it be made more compact.  Tucker asked for more data, including early and absentee voting data, in the future.  She concluded by asking the Commission to “show the country that Virginia can shine to produce bipartisan maps and districts.”

Tim Hickey, a former House of Delegates candidate from south Albemarle County, described current maps as “insidious partisan gerrymanders” that, for the past 10 years, sliced the county into 4 different House districts. “Albemarle is 70% Democrat; why do we now have 3 Republican and 1 Democrat” representatives?  “They deserve better”, he said, proposing that Charlottesville and surrounding area form one district, with the rest of Albemarle in the second district.  He described part of the proposed map A7 as sensible, pairing Albemarle with Nelson County; but he urged the Commission to reject other aspects of A7 which “slices the heart of the community to draw in Amherst” which, in his opinion, belongs to Lynchburg.  “Respect the people of Albemarle County.” Read more

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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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A first for the redistricting commission – foreign language interpreters!

Today, for the first time, language interpreters were available to assist speakers and attendees who are not fluent in English.  Translators were standing by to help Vietnamese, Korean, and Spanish speakers.  Although no one requested Korean or Vietnamese language interpretation, several Spanish speakers had the assistance of interpreters. One Spanish interpreter was provided by the Virginia Civic Engagement Table (VCET).  The Division of Legislative Services (DLS) staff and Commission sent notice of language assistance a few hours prior to the afternoon hearing.  To sign up for Spanish interpretation, email  

Around 35 people signed up to speak at the Public Hearing which was focused on Northern Virginia.  Twenty of the 35 spoke.  Themes of keeping communities together was heard throughout the hearing.

Six people (Rosalia Fajardo, Lenka Mendoza, Vicky Leiva, Alejandra Ponciano, Elsa Delgado, and Karina Flores) spoke in support of Map # 147, which was submitted by the Multicultural Community Coalition.  Map 147 was drawn for counties in Northern Virginia.  The speakers have lived in Virginia for 11 to 22 years.  They described their communities in Prince William County, Manassas, and Dale City.  They spoke of their cultural ties to their communities, including shopping, schools, and churches.  They expressed a desire for representation and look forward to having their voices heard for the next ten years.

Three people spoke on behalf of their community organizations.  Mr. Paul Berry, chair of the Fairfax County Redistricting group, described the process that this group of 20 followed as they drew new county supervisor and school board districts.  They elevated communities of interest and gave “no formal consideration to elected officials.”  They “unanimously agreed that where they live is less important than the citizens they serve.”  Monica Sarmiento , Executive Director of the Virginia Coalition for Immigrants Rights (CIR), a coalition of 43 groups, noted that Virginia has the 9th largest immigrant population in the U.S., and that ¾ of the immigrant communities are in Northern Virginia.  She noted the map her coalition submitted and wanted to endorse the maps submitted by VCET and the New Virginia Majority.  Edgar Aranda-Yanoc, executive director of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, wants to make his community stronger and supports alternate map 147.

Eleven people spoke as individuals about the draft maps.  Recurring themes were respect for COIs (Communities of interest) and criticism of incumbent protection. 

Mr. Ankit Jain said that the number of seats that a party holds must be proportional.  If maps are compact but “give advantage to one party or another”, they are not fair.  He noted that the A5 Senate map has been given a grade of “F” by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project; the House maps were graded “B” and “A”.  He recommended using Senate map B4 and House map A7 as base maps, making some changes, and looking for the possibility of creating one more minority opportunity district.

Chris DeRosa (Arlington) expressed approval of both A5 and B4 maps of the Senate districts for Arlington, while rejecting a change in House map A7 which seemed to result in incumbent protection. She noted that neither A7 nor B6 reflected the COIs that had been mentioned by speakers in the previous week, notably the Columbia Pike and metro corridors. 

Janet Martin (North Springfield) described her community as extending to and including Annandale, which has a large Korean community.  She does not like House B6 map which splits Annandale and connects North Springfield to George Mason University 20 miles to the west.  Martin wondered why the community of Holmes Run Acres was carved out.  She described many conversations that “start with concerns about incumbent addresses”, which should be at the “bottom of your list – make it the last thing you look at.”  Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr, she said it was “time to bend the arc of history toward justice.”

Mr. Lynn Pascoe, co-chair of the Mt. Vernon Council of Citizens Assn (MVCCA), said he was not satisfied with any of the maps, and that he will submit alternative maps.  Sam Shirazi said it doesn’t make sense that Charlottesville is split 3 ways or that rural King George County is paired with Fredericksburg.  He wondered if public comments are being heard and incorporated into fair maps. 

Richard Zimmerman described Northern Virginia districts as “sausages” breaking up townships.  “A delegate ought to be able to visit with his constituents in the first half of the football game and another group in the 2nd half.” 

Callie Jordan, a student at University of Mary Washington, asked that her campus be kept together in one House district.  Being split into two House districts (as it is now; Districts 28 and 88) and 3 municipal wards causes confusion.  Students, staff, and the greater community of Fredericksburg share many interests in common. 

Bill Millhouser (Fairfax County) supported earlier statements by Jain, Martin, and Berry.  He prefers House map A7 and Senate map B4.  He approves of Bailey’s Crossroads being included in the Columbia Pike corridor in Arlington.  Made several other suggestions of modifying districts to better respect COIs. 

Lois Maiden-McCray (Prince William County) said that churches and shopping were important to her.  She expressed a preference for House map B6 and Senate map B4 but does not like House map A7.  She asked the Commission to not dilute the vote and reminded them, quoting her mother, that “it’s nice to be nice”. 

Ms. Ha Nguyen (Centreville) noted that Asians comprised 6.5% of Virginia’s total population in 2010, but in 2020 is 9% of the state population, an increase of 45%.  She noted that the Asian community had a lot at stake in redistricting, and that they are deserving of “collective advocacy power”.  She asked that Centreville be included in a district with Fairfax County where her family and neighbors shop and go to school (rather than Prince William County).  Ms. Nguyen mentioned the maps created by VCET, a coalition which includes NAKASEC. 

Hamilton Premen (Fauquier County) said this process is “a dream come true”, referring to VPAP’s rating of all maps as more compact than current maps.  He is concerned that Fauquier County is split and asked for smoother boundaries, rather than the jagged borders that he sees on maps.  He recommended using the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to evaluate maps for political fairness.  “Incumbents should have even less weight”, he stated. 

The next hearings are scheduled for Tuesday, October 5 at 10 am (Southside) and 4 pm (Hampton Roads) and will continue Wednesday and Thursday.  All hearings are virtual and can be viewed on YouTube.  You may sign up to speak no later than 12 noon the day before the hearing.

LWV-VA Observer Corps –
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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