Census Bureau Says 2020 Data Will Be Released by September 30

The U.S. Census Bureau on February 12 committed to release the data necessary to complete the latest round of redistricting by September 30, 2021. The announcement almost certainly means that Virginia legislative districts cannot be redrawn in time for the 2021 state legislative races. 

In its announcement, the bureau said it would release the data for all states at the same time. Before Covid-19 delayed and impacted the implementation of the 2020 Census, the bureau provided the data for Virginia as early as March, which would have given the redistricting commission adequate time to complete its work, under the requirements of the recently passed constitutional amendment. 

Still to be determined is when new maps would be imposed on the General Assembly. Both members of the House of Delegates and the Senate would normally run again in 2023. Under the new schedule, maps could still be redrawn in time for the 2022 congressional elections. 

Click here for bureau’s full press release. 

The National Conference of State Legislatures has published a guide detailing how delays in the Census will impact the schedule for all states, including Virginia. 

Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-VA, Falls Church

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League and Partners Pledge to Help with “Communities of Interest”

The League of Women Voters of Virginia today joined with other redistricting reform organizations to encourage the new Virginia Redistricting Commission to help citizens define their “communities of interest” when the commission begins drawing legislative and congressional district maps. Communities of interest must now be considered when the maps are drawn. The coalition pledged to work with the commission to help citizens understand the tools that can be used to define their communities and to encourage them to share their perspectives with the commission. Here is the text of the letter: 

February 9, 2021

To the members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission:

We represent a coalition of organizations who advocate for fair districts, transparency, and public
involvement in the redistricting process. We were gratified to see the outpouring of applications from
Virginians willing to serve on the Commission and have high expectations for not only the final maps,
but also the public and transparent process that will create them.
Though the members of this Commission represent much of the diversity of the Commonwealth, no
group of 16 individuals can be sufficiently familiar with every community in order to accurately represent
their interests. To that end, the public input mechanisms built into this process are crucial. They alone,
however, will not meet the high standards we believe Virginians expect in this newly transparent
process. Therefore, our coalition seeks to supplement the outreach done by the Commission in order to
facilitate broader, meaningful public engagement.

Because communities of interest are now legally required to be taken into account when drawing
district lines, it is imperative that the public is able to effectively communicate to the Commission what
they believe their communities of interest are. This Commission and the surrounding reforms have
created space for unprecedented public involvement, and we are committed to ensuring that
involvement takes place.

Using public community mapping tools – created by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project (available at
representable.org and explained at gerrymander.princeton.edu/virginia-report) and the Metric Geometry
and Gerrymandering Group at Tufts University (available at districtr.org) – we seek to provide
community members with the tools to submit quantitative recommendations to the Commission.
Individuals will use these tools to precisely show the boundaries of their communities and their ideal
districts to accurately represent their communities’ interests. We will also host numerous virtual events
to collect public input and we plan to invite all Commissioners to participate in hopes you will take the
opportunity to attend.

We stand ready to assist, to engage, to educate, and to participate in this historic process. Together,
we will ensure the most public, transparent redistricting process Virginia has ever seen and to deliver
the most accurate, community-based legislative districts that residents of the Commonwealth so rightly
deserve.

Sincerely,

Kathay Feng, National Redistricting and Representation Director, Common Cause
Michael Futrell, President, National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization
Natalie Snider, State Advocacy Director, AARP Virginia
Phillip Thomson, Executive Director, National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization
Deb Wake, President, League of Women Voters of Virginia
Samuel Wang, Princeton Gerrymandering Project
Liz White, Executive Director, OneVirginia2021 Foundation

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV, Falls Church

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What’s Your Community of Interest?

As the Virginia Redistricting Commission begins to draw new district maps, it must respect “Communities of Interest” (COI), as stated in SB 717 and HB 1255.

The specific language from the bills is as follows:
“Districts shall be drawn to preserve communities of interest. For purposes of this subdivision, a “community of interest” means a neighborhood or any geographically defined group of people living in 40 an area who share similar social, cultural, and economic interests. A “community of interest” does not include a community based upon political affiliation or relationship with a political party, elected official, or candidate for office.”

Some communities have been cracked or split into 2 or more House of Delegate, State Senate, and/or Congressional districts. Other communities find themselves drawn into a district that is comprised primarily of another County or jurisdiction. In both instances, the voters find that their voices aren’t being heard or respected by their elected leaders.

The League of Women Voters of Virginia partnered with teams from Princeton and Tufts Universities to introduce and train Virginians on how to draw maps of their COI. Virginians can use their easy-to-use, open source tools to identify their Communities of Interest, draw maps of their COIs, and share them with the Redistricting Commission. The goal is to help voters to participate in the redistricting process by creating as many community maps as possible and sharing them – especially hard-to-count populations that might be overlooked in the redistricting process.

The team at Tufts University’s Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group (MGGG) has created the DistrictR tool. You can visit their website for more information. 

The Princeton University/Princeton Gerrymandering Team has created the Representable tool. You can find information at the Representable website.  

The LWV-VA is attempting to collect as many COI maps using the Representable tool. Start at this link in order to add your map to the League’s “mapping drive” folder

Later, you can submit your COI maps to the Commission for their consideration.

To learn more, you may view the recordings of the training and information sessions on our YouTube channel .  

 

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Redistricting Commission Picks Two Women as Co-Chairs

The new bi-partisan Virginia Redistricting Commission held its first meeting January 21, and promptly agreed to elect its two women citizen members, one from each party’s contingent, to serve as co-chairs.

The constitutional amendment that was approved in November had specified that a citizen member be elected as chair. But after the members introduced themselves, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover,  moved that a co-chair be nominated from each party, and Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, who drafted the original version of the amendment, seconded his motion. After Division of Legislative Services staff advised a citizen member that the commission could do that, the commission voted unanimously to elect Greta Harris, a Democratic member from Richmond, and Mackenzie Babichenko, a Republican member from Mechanicsville, as co-chairs. The commission agreed that the co-chairs would alternate leadership of the commission’s meetings, and work together with the DLS staff to prepare future agendas. Harris, 69, is CEO of the non-profit Better Housing Coalition; Babichenko, 39, is an assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Hanover County.

Meg Lamb, an attorney for DLS, reported that it was not clear when the Commonwealth would receive the final U.S. Census data that would enable it to complete its work. Barker said a member of President Biden’s transition team had recently contacted him to discuss the situation because Virginia—and New Jersey—normally would have to redraw their maps this year for legislative elections. Barker said the Virginia Department of Elections had said it could hold primaries for statewide races in June and as late as August 24 for the House of Delegates and still meet statutory deadlines for elections.

But Barker and Newman suggested that in the meantime the commission could begin its work using preliminary data. Barker said population shifts in the state had not been as dramatic as in the recent past. There has been some population growth in the northern part of the state and around Fredericksburg, he noted, with a loss of population in the South. By March, the nationwide reapportionment of congressional seats is expected to be completed, determining how many congressional districts Virginia will have.

Some of the citizen members requested additional guidance regarding transparency requirements and redistricting in general. Lamb said they would all receive copies of the so-called National Conference of State Legislatures “Red Book” on redistricting. (The book is available for purchase by the public through the NCSL website. )

The DLS staff explained that the commission would be able to hire attorneys and consultants, as necessary, to help with its work. It was noted that before the constitutional amendment passed, the General Assembly conducted a procurement and chose the software package Citygate GIS to support its work. Lamb said DLS could further explore other packages that might be publicly available. A number of questions regarding prospective timetables and process will be taken up at future meetings.

At the opening of the meeting, the members introduced themselves. Several of the citizens expressed their “excitement” over being involved. Most said they had spent most of their lives in the state, some residing in different regions over their lifetimes. Following the appointment of the eight citizen members on January 6, concerns were raised about two of the appointees over campaign contributions and comments published on social media. Those issues, however, were not revisited by the commission members at their meeting.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, acknowledged that he had opposed the constitutional amendment, but said he was “committed to doing our best to make it work.” He said he hoped his concerns would turn out to be wrong. Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, did not comment on her vote against the amendment, but noted that she was an ordained minister, and that she might “pause for a prayer” if she felt the commission would benefit.

A handful of Virginia residents had indicated in advance of the meeting that they wanted to speak, and they were allotted up to two minutes each. One, Suzanne Chambers, a member of NAACP branch 7045, described how Amherst County, where she lived, had been negatively impacted by gerrymandering, Jeff Jacobs of Herndon expressed concern that his fast-growing area was not represented on the commission. He and Gary Page of Farmville raised questions related to software and citizen input. Another member of the public who had trouble using the Zoom platform was asked to submit her comments in writing instead.

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-VA, Falls Church

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Redistricting Commission Sets First Meeting for January 21

The new Virginia Redistricting Commission will hold its first meeting at 5 p.m. on Thursday January 21. The main order of business will be to elect a chair from among the eight citizen members of the 16-member commission. The commission will also get an update on the expected delivery of the census data they will need to complete their job.

Information on the meeting is available by clicking here. To join the meeting, click here. To register to speak at the meeting, click here.   

The Division of Legislative Services will close registration for public comment at 10 a.m. on January 21. Members of the public who wish to comment on an agenda item may also do so by sending an email to /.  Public comments will be posted on the division’s website. 

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-VA, Falls Church

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Learn More About the Citizen Members

Thanks to the transparency embodied in the new constitutional amendment, you can read the full applications of the citizens who were appointed to the commission. Click here for our summary of their backgrounds and excerpts from their letters of recommendation. Click here to download a zip file containing their complete applications and letters of reference, as well as those of the 62 individuals who were finalists.

–Fran Larkins, LWV-VA Fredericksburg, and Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-VA, Falls Church

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Eight Citizens Named to Virginia’s New Redistricting Commission

Eight citizens were chosen by a panel of retired Virginia Circuit Court judges on January 6 to fill out the membership of the new bipartisan redistricting commission created by the constitutional amendment that voters passed on their November ballots.

In a Zoomed meeting that concluded just before a mob stormed Capitol Hill, the judges selected the members from a list of 60-some names proposed by the General Assembly’s four party leaders. More than 1,200 Virginians submitted applications during the month-long filing window and each leader, as required, put forth at least 16 names. From each of those four lists, the judges worked to develop consensus on two appointments. For a detailed report on the meeting, click here. 

The judges repeatedly commented on the “impressive” and brilliant” list of applicants from which they had to choose. They also worked to appoint a slate that met statutory requirements for attention to geographic, gender and racial diversity.

Read more

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Amendment #1 Passes at the Polls

Citizen-led, transparent process to replace current, broken system

Virginians voted Tuesday to establish a bipartisan and citizen-led redistricting commission, thwarting the practice of politicians picking their constituents.  

The Amendment, which took two years to bring to the voters, after having to pass two different sessions of the General Assembly, creates a redistricting commission rather than having maps drawn by the majority party. Districts will need to be drawn in accordance with strict requirements of federal and state laws that address racial and ethnic fairness and provide opportunities for racial and ethnic communities to elect candidates of their choice.

“Politicians have benefitted from a system where they picked their own districts for too long. The amendment provides for a citizen-led commission which will take redistricting out of backroom political maneuverings,” said Deb Wake, President of the League of Women Voters of Virginia. “All of the proceedings of this commission are open to the public and transparent, bringing much needed sunlight to the process. Thanks to Governor Northam for inserting enabling language so the process can start immediately.”

The League has been working for fair redistricting for many generations and will continue to work to make sure there is citizen involvement and oversight of the process. We support #PeoplePoweredFairMaps.

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New Voting & Elections Laws took effect July 1, 2020

No Excuse Absentee Voting, HB 1 (Herring), HB 207 (VanValkenburg), SB 11 (Howell)

  • Allows any voter qualified to vote in an election to vote absentee without an excuse.

Redistricting Constitutional Amendment, SJ18 (Barker), and Criteria Bill, SB717 (McClellan) / HB1255 (Price)

  • Virginia’s election maps are gerrymandered. Virginia’s Constitution allows legislators to draw boundaries that ensure they are reelected.  Legislators are able to use detailed voter data in selecting their own constituents. Last year, after extensive negotiation, Virginia’s legislature passed a constitutional amendment for a redistricting commission of 8 legislators and 8 citizens, with a citizen chair. Virginia’s legislature passed the constitutional amendment the requisite second time this session, along with criteria legislation from Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Cia Price. The Senate vote was 38 – 2, and the House vote was 46 – 43. The General Assembly also passed a ballot referendum which will put the matter before voters in the November general election.

Expand Accepted IDs; Eliminating Photo ID Requirement HB19 (Lindsey), HB213 (Sullivan), SB65 (Locke)

  • HB19 and SB65 eliminate, for most qualified voters, the requirement to provide photo identification at the polls
  • HB213 adds to the list of acceptable forms of voter ID a valid student photo ID card issued by any institution of higher education in any other state or territory of the United States

Repealing Race Based Restrictions on Voting, HB1086 (Price), SB555 (Spruill)

  • Repeals laws that were still on the books relating to voting restrictions, poll taxes, and registration records separated on the basis of race

Automatic Voter Registration, HB235 (J. Cole), SB219 (Marsden)

  • Gives visitors to the Department of Motor Vehicles the choice to opt out of registering to vote instead of an opt in to filling out a voter registration application.

Election Day Holiday, HB108 (Lindsey), SB610 (Lucas)

  • Designates Election Day, the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, as a state holiday and removes Lee-Jackson Day as a state holiday.

High School Voter Registration, HB1491 (Guy)

  • Requires every public high school to give students, who are eligible to register to vote, access to registration information and applications, or access to the online registration system, and the opportunity to apply during the school day.

 

Same Day Registration & Voting, HB201 (Ayala), delayed effective date of July 1, 2022.

  • Will let qualified voters register and vote on the same day if they provide proof of residency. 
  •  
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Redistricting FAQ

Why LWV-VA Supports Constitutional Amendment S.J. 18 to End Partisan Gerrymandering 

What is independent redistricting and why is it needed? Redistricting is the process of drawing maps to determine election districts for members of Congress and the state legislature. In many states, the legislature wields the power to draw these maps. When one party controls this process, it can rig the maps to stay in power by choosing the electorate in each district (“gerrymandering”). 

Gerrymandering weakens voters’ voices. It carves up communities, removes competition, increases polarization, and creates gridlock. Redistricting works better when voters get more of a say. 

Why Virginia needs a Constitutional Amendment now for fair redistricting. Virginia’s election maps are gerrymandered. Virginia’s constitution gives only legislators the power to draw the election maps. Only a constitutional amendment can change the constitution and let citizens serve on a redistricting commission. A mere law (legislation) cannot amend the constitution. 

Last year, after extensive negotiation, Virginia’s legislature passed a constitutional amendment (“CA”) to establish a better way: a commission of 8 legislators and 8 citizens, with a citizen chair. 

Timing is critical. Redistricting in Virginia usually occurs only once every ten years. In order to enact the amendment before the next ten-year redistricting in early 2021, the constitutional amendment must pass again this legislative session and then go before voters on the ballot in November. 

Why the League of Women Voters of Virginia supports the Constitutional Amendment, SJ 18 / HJ 71

  • The Amendment gives citizens a voice in the Virginia redistricting process for the first time. Protectionist maps help legislators keep their seats. Citizens don’t have that conflict of interest. 
  • The Amendment for the first time requires that lines be drawn in accordance with specific “laws that address racial and ethnic fairness,” avoiding harm to our communities and Virginia. 
  • Redistricting decisions will be brought into the light, not hidden away in dark, secret backrooms. 

What do the accompanying bills do? 

  • Senate bill 203 creates criteria for drawing maps, such as ensuring the votes of racial or language minorities are not diluted, preserving communities of interest, and avoiding lines that favor parties or politicians or divide towns. 
  • Senate bill 204 directs the Court to appoint a citizen “special master” to assist in redistricting. 

Shouldn’t we try for a better commission, without legislators? This is the only amendment available to be passed this year, before the decennial redistricting and the next House election. We need to pass it while the window of opportunity is open. 

Should voters be concerned about Virginia’s Supreme Court? Accompanying legislation (SB204) requires the court to appoint a citizen special master to draw the maps. Virginia’s justices are bound by canons of judicial ethics and were appointed by Democrat, as well as Republican, controlled legislative chambers. 

Who supports S.J. 18? Respected voices include the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Senator Tim Kaine and Rep. Don Beyer, and the editorial boards of the Richmond Times-Daily and the Virginian-Pilot. Importantly, 70% of Virginians support redistricting reform, according to a recent poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. 

The eyes of the nation are on Virginia. Without the constitutional amendment, the very next statehouse election, in 2021, could bring in a legislature that would reverse any mere laws. An amendment is the only vehicle strong enough to start real change and ensure fair elections. 

The League of Women Voters of Virginia stands up for voters. 

The League fully supports SJ 18 and HJ 71. 

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