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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Commission Prepares to Draw Congressional Maps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meeting Ends Abruptly as Three Citizen Commissioners Leave Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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Friday, 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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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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