Virginia Supreme Court Releases Final Redistricting Maps

The Supreme Court of Virginia on December 28 unanimously approved the final versions of the maps that will define the Commonwealth’s legislative and congressional districts for the next decade. The final maps were released and can be reviewed here.

The maps were accompanied by a lengthy memo written by the two special masters who drew the them.  In it, the two masters, Bernard Grofman and Sean Trende, explained the reasoning behind their final maps and the choices they had made in revising them after two days of public hearings and a review of public comments.

The special masters wrote, “Over the past few weeks, we have listened to the voices of dozens of Virginians, read thousands of their comments and consulted with the Court.” The special masters said that they had “done our best to incorporate the comments that we received. . . .” The final maps, they contended, “should demonstrate [that] we have paid attention, and have tried to incorporate as many of the suggestions as possible.” Still, they reiterated that redistricting “is a complex task, one that requires the balancing of multiple competing factors.” They acknowledged that “there are likely thousands of maps that accomplish certain goals of redistricting that we did not accomplish, but they come at the expense of other goals we sought to achieve.” They asserted that they had read every comment, and “where appropriate, explored ways to address the suggestion.”

The special masters’ lengthy memo described features of the new maps and how they tried to address the requests they heard. They noted that both of them had some knowledge of the state, and had continued to consult each other through Zoom calls, “sometimes stretching over the better part of  a day.” The maps, they said, “still reflect a true joint effort on our part.” They said they had agreed on almost all issues initially, and the few issues on which they initially disagreed “were resolved by amicable discussion.”

The redistricting process ended up on the desk of the Supreme Court when the deliberations of a bi-partisan commission of citizens and legislators broke down over partisan disagreements. The Court chose Grofman and Trende to draw the maps from a list of nominees submitted by the leaders of the General Assembly’s two political parties; the Court asked the Republicans to submit additional names after expressing concerns about the partisanship of their original nominees.

In describing their overall approach to map-drawing, Grofman and Trende had some tough language in response to some changes they had been asked to make. They noted that “perhaps the most common criticism” their maps had received was that “we paid insufficient attention to incumbency” and had paired too many legislators against each other and weakened congressional incumbents. In response, they noted that they had tried to eliminate the jurisdictional splits that had marred previous rounds of redistricting. The existing Senate map, they noted, splits 46 counties 78 times and the House of Delegates map splits 60 counties 138 times. Their final Senate map splits 25 counties 34 times, and for the House, 51 counties are split 98 times.

The special masters said that in consultation with the Court, they had rejected calls to pay attention to the addresses of incumbents, and noted that “incumbency protection” is not a valid criterion. Paying attention to the protection of incumbents, they wrote, “would seem to be at odds” with the thrust of the constitutional amendment approved by Virginia voters in November 2020. “Having established compact districts that respect communities of interest, however, our hope is that future redistrictings utilizing the same criteria will be less severe.” In response to those who argued for keeping old districts in place, they responded, “a minimal changes map based upon districts drawn with heavy political considerations would, in our view, bless those districts and contravene the intent of the voters” who passed the amendment. Again, they hoped that redistricting would be easier to accomplish in the future, now that previous rounds of gerrymandering have been addressed.

The special masters said they drew their proposed maps “without referencing partisanship, except to ensure that our ability-to-elect districts would, in fact, function to elect the minority candidate of choice.” At the end of their work, they said they “unblinded” themselves to partisanship, but noted that despite recent Democratic gains in the General Assembly, Republicans demonstrated in 2021 that they could still win in the Commonwealth. In the end, they said they accomplished the task of creating an unbiased map naturally, using neutral principles, and did not need to adjust the maps that had been drawn in a partisan-blind fashion.

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Supreme Court of Virginia Hearing on Redistricting Maps: Part II

On Friday, December 17, the Supreme Court of Virginia (SCoVA) held the second and final scheduled virtual public hearing on the redistricting maps proposed by the Court’s Special Masters. As at the first hearing on Wednesday, all seven Justices could be seen in the courtroom and the two Special Masters were also listening.  Sixty-six individuals registered and 51 actually spoke at this final hearing bringing the total for the two days to over 100 members of the public that provided input. 

Robert N. Barnette, Jr., President of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, was first to speak. “It is particularly important that the Court hear and consider the views of Black communities and other communities of color who have long been disenfranchised, discriminated against, and excluded from meaningful participation in Virginia’s redistricting process.” He expressed concern that the Special Masters used American Community Survey (ACS) data in analyzing whether Black voters would have the ability to elect candidates of choice in specific districts.  “ACS data routinely and often significantly undercounts Black voting age population.” The NAACP recommended the Special Masters “use 2020 Census data when determining Black voters’ ability to elect candidates of choice under their proposed redistricting plans.”  He suggested it is unclear if the Special Masters analyzed the precincts to determine how they would have performed in past elections.  “The Special Masters must conduct a precinct reconstruction analysis and publicize this analysis, including which elections were used in conducting this analysis.”  He also asked that  additional public hearings be held on any revised versions of the initial Special Masters maps before their adoption by the Court.  NOTE:  Barnette’s time expired but the NAACP’s full  written comments and recommended maps of Black communities of interest are available on the SCoVA Redistricting Information web page.

Testifying later in the hearing, Phillip Thompson, Executive Director of the National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization, said  he understands it’s a difficult process but overall the NBNRO “believes this is a decent job.” He mentioned opportunity districts, especially for the Senate.  He agreed, however, with Barnette that Black population data should be looked at again and analyzed more deeply to make sure of the opportunities for minorities. In addition, the NBNRO does not support looking at incumbent addresses, but they are concerned that four Senators have been paired including African Americans, Sen. Lionell Spruill and Sen. Louise Lucas. Similar to testimony on Wednesday, several other members of the public expressed concern about the packing of Black voters into CD4. 

Five speakers briefly mentioned concern about the impact of the redistricting on women incumbents. Two asked that SCoVA continue to ignore incumbent addresses.

The larger focus for the afternoon was on the various regions of the Commonwealth with the majority of testimony on central Virginia.  More attention than previously, however, was given  to Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. U.S. Congressman Morgan Griffith of the 9th District also spoke about the importance of Salem and west Roanoke County being in the 9th Congressional District.

Central Virginia 

For the second day, a large number of people spoke about the problems with the fragmentation of central Virginia. They were against the break-up of their “Communities of Interest (COIs)” related to the movement of Congressional District 7 from the Richmond suburbs and central Virginia to Prince William and Stafford Counties in Northern Virginia.  

Western Chesterfield would move from the 7th Congressional District to the 5th. Western Henrico and Goochland Counties, also formerly in the 7th, would move to the 1st District. This time, however, an estimated 18 speakers from Henrico,  Chesterfield and Goochland Counties added they felt their concerns were addressed by “the Farkas map.”  This map was submitted to SCoVA by the Elias Law Group following the hearing Wednesday. The firm represents “James Farkas, a Virginia voter who successfully challenged the General Assembly’s unconstitutional racial gerrymander of the congressional map following the last census.”  [The “Farkas map” was later questioned by Steven Thomas, another member of the public, who cautioned against the map as a Democratic gerrymander.]

Other speakers from the immediate Richmond area included Rusty Tutton of Midlothian in Chesterfield who felt the Special Masters’ maps were generally fair and equitable but did not treat the greater Richmond area fairly. Representatives wouldn’t be able to spend much time in their districts because they are so large and far flung. He held up maps to the camera, which can be viewed on pages 1801-1806 of the “Public Comments” section of SCoVA’s “Redistricting Information” web page. 

Steve Baker of Arlington thanked the Special Masters for their dedication to compactness and their efforts to keep COIs together. He then spoke of the natural boundaries that the Special Masters missed when drawing the Congressional Districts. The coastal tidewater region reaches to Henrico County. CD 4 could be extended to Suffolk which is truly southside. It would be better to leave eastern Henrico in CD1 and western in CD5 which has more in common with Chesterfield.

Phyllis Tessieri did not support the Special Masters’ maps because “they risk dampening democracy rather than strengthening it.  Minorities are underrepresented now and see few people that look like them as representatives.”

Three speakers expressed concern that Albemarle County is divided between two Congressional Districts in the proposed maps – the 5th and the 10th. Brandon Turner said the maps are more compact but need reworking to give communities of interest the same respect in all regions of the Commonwealth.

Theresa Hepier lives in the Redfields development one mile outside Charlottesville and asked that Redfields be included in House District 54.  The Special Masters maps have placed her community in HD55. She also mentioned she was lucky to have a job where she can take time to testify because good representation is important to her.

Amelia County Supervisor Roger Scott was concerned about the separation of Amelia County from the greater Richmond metro area as they have more in common with Richmond than Lynchburg and southside Virginia. Amelia County is not considered “rural” by the USDA and has a higher income level than the rest of proposed CD5.  His comments were echoed by Lauren Whittington and Helen Warriner-Burke who asked that Amelia voters be put back where they belong in the capital region. 

Amy Huml  said “Putting Louisa County in Congressional District 1 would combine communities with little in common and would make services more difficult for citizens.
Patricia Ranney added, “Splitting of Louisa County seems arbitrary and causes problems with medical care.” Melvin Burruss said the Special Masters maps don’t fairly deliver representation to the black population in Louisa County by separating heavily black areas and precincts.

Jennifer Heinz of Locust Grove in Orange County spoke against moving Orange County from CD7 to CD10 with Loudoun County. “Orange has nothing in common with Loudoun County.” Several additional Locust Grove residents were also concerned that Orange County is split into two House of Delegates districts and “it is better to align them with Culpeper and Madison.” Joseph Freeland suggested if the county must be divided that the split be based on the Board of Supervisors proposed voting districts with 1 and 3 in HD62 and 2,4, and 5 in HD63.

Northern Virginia 

Ankit Jain of Vienna requested bringing population from Fairfax into Senate District 32 to provide for a stronger Asian opportunity district and removing Brambleton from S32 to unite that community.  He suggested protecting minority interests is more important than “nesting” districts.  Jain also asked that SCoVA order revised maps that address the many public comments.

Aaron Yohai is chair of the Braddock District Democratic Committee in Fairfax.  He recommended the Special Masters move Wakefield in Annandale from HD15 to HD14 to unify the common zip code and school attendance.  He also asked that Kings Park West be united under one Delegate and one Senator. “ Burke Center is another COI that is haphazardly divided but could easily be fixed to increase the quality of representation by swapping Robinson and Fairview precincts.”

Ted Bloechle of Tyson’s Corner submitted recommended changes to three areas of the Special Masters’ maps which are available through the SCoVA “Redistricting Information” page. His proposal in Northern Virginia, based on feedback from Mount Vernon citizens, would shift the 8th Congressional District south; in central Virginia he would avoid the split in Albemarle County by moving it and Charlottesville wholly into the 10th District; and in Hampton Roads, he would  move Chesapeake and Northeast Norfolk into Congressional District 2 and the portion of the 2nd beyond the Great Dismal Swamp into the 3rd. 

Genie McCreery asked, “Please keep Mt. Vernon together.  The Special Masters’ maps split Mt. Vernon and couples it with Springfield.” Cathy Hosek of the Mt. Vernon Council of Citizens Associations testified that McCreery and Ted Bloechle “nailed it!”  They have just finished their magisterial redistricting and Springfield was not considered part of their Community of Interest.

Fran Larkins extended thanks to SCoVA and the Special Masters  for keeping the city of Fredericksburg whole in all three maps; for recognizing the “Greater Fredericksburg” community of interest in the new compact S27;  and for not dividing her community in HD65.  She also asked they continue to ignore incumbent addresses.

Steven Thomas of Fairfax and long-time resident of Spotsylvania expressed concerns about splitting up of the Fredericksburg region “at the altar of Northern Virginia.” He suggested putting Loudoun and Prince William Counties in the 7th Congressional District but Stafford County and Fredericksburg together with the Piedmont counties in the 10th.  Thomas also cautioned against the Elias group map as a Democratic gerrymander. 

Hampton Roads

Andria McClellan, Norfolk City Council member, asked that Congressional District 2 be reconsidered to include part of Norfolk.  Adding part of Norfolk to CD2 and returning Suffolk and the Isle of Wight to Congressional District 3 would keep the military community in Norfolk and Virginia Beach together and strengthen minority representation.  

Brian Budenholzer of Virginia Beach concurred with Councilwoman McClellan and added the proposed CD2 is not compact or contiguous.  Hampton Roads has been split and Norfolk and Virginia Beach communities of interest have the same concern.

Jacob Levy of Norfolk, a third-year law student at Georgetown, agreed because it “better preserves communities of interest which strengthens minority representation and improves compactness and contiguity.”

Maurice Hawkins,  U.S. Air Force veteran, and John Gadzinski, a Navy veteran, both spoke of the importance to the military community of keeping Virginia Beach and Norfolk together.  “They have much in common economically and environmentally.”

Victoria Nicholls of Chesapeake lives in the Greenbrier area on the border with Virginia Beach. Her problem is they have been moved into Portsmouth in SD19 when they should be with Virginia Beach in SD18.  “They have nothing in common with Portsmouth!”

West Central

U.S. Congressman Morgan Griffith of the 9th District spoke about the importance of keeping Salem and west Roanoke County in the 9th.  “While the population of the Roanoke Valley requires it be divided in some fashion, the Special Masters lack an understanding of the region. Many of my constituents are shocked that Salem and west Roanoke County are out and Bedford is now in the 9th.  Bedford is in the Lynchburg MSA and it’s community of interest is oriented east towards Lynchburg and not toward Roanoke.  It is also east of the Blue Ridge and not part of the Appalachian region.”

“The Special Masters also mistakenly believe the cities of Salem and Roanoke must be together.  They don’t.  The two cities have vastly different histories.  Salem was founded in 1802 and became a city in 1969 to prevent being annexed out of existence by Roanoke City.  The Virginia annexation moratorium was created by delegates representing Salem and west Roanoke County to prevent encroachment by Roanoke City.  In a hotly contested race in 2010, one of the major issues was “Could or should Salem be a part of the 9th?”  A majority of the voters said “Yes.”  SCoVA should respect the will of the voters who said Salem and west Roanoke County should be in the 9th Congressional District.”

Southside 

William Pace, mayor of Chatham, testified that Senate District 9 is good but they should consider adding Hurt to House District 48. Hurt and Chatham are both in Pittsylvania County. “The 5th CD is not perfect, but with the primary in March, time is not on our side so it should be left as is.”  

Unique Perspectives

Salaar Khan
Prelaw student at William and Mary, is the son of immigrants and politically active. He  felt communities should be based on cultures rather than county lines and districts should be independent based on voters not candidates.  New communities should be engaged – the disenfranchised, young people, the disabled, and Muslim

Andre Tolleris of Richmond spoke up for proportional voting based on the percentage of vote share. We now create inequity with lines around regions that exist only on maps.  Political lines allow manipulation of votes.

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Supreme Court of Virginia Hearing on Redistricting Maps: Part I

On December 15, the Supreme Court of Virginia held the first of two virtual public hearings on the redistricting maps proposed by the Court’s Special Masters. All seven Justices attended and Chief Justice Donald Lemons announced that the two Special Masters, Sean P. Trende and Bernard N. Grofman were also watching.

Fifty-one individuals testified of the 64 persons who had registered.  The majority of  those who spoke pointed out problems with the fragmentation of central Virginia and the break-up of their “Communities of Interest (COIs).”  Many of their concerns were related to the movement of Congressional District 7 from the Richmond suburbs to Prince William and Stafford Counties in Northern Virginia.  Ruth Dale Tutton of Chesterfield spoke of the “vibrant community around Richmond” and added, the maps are “shattering districts with not one word about COIs.”

Western Chesterfield would move from the 7th Congressional District to the 5th. Western Henrico, also formerly in the 7th, would move to the 1st District.  The movement of CD7 also meant that Goochland and Louisa counties were placed in the 1st Congressional District. Speakers said their rural areas belong with the larger western Richmond suburbs and not with Coastal Virginia counties which make up the 1st. It also doesn’t meet the guidelines for compactness. They were also concerned that they will lose all current elected representatives and dividing the county will necessitate building relationships with multiple new representatives. 

In another region,  Jose Feliciano, former Virginia Redistricting Commission member from Spotsylvania Co. apologized that this hard work is falling to the Justices because of the failure of the Commission.  Speaking as a resident of Spotsylvania County, he said the County has nothing in common with Northern Virginia and doesn’t want to be part of it.  Matthew Kuser, also of northern Spotsylvania County said they have nothing in common with Prince William County and vote more like Louisa.

Several speakers (women and men) spoke of the disproportionate impact of the redistricting on women representatives. Melissa Dart of Henrico pointed out that of 11 Congressional Districts, the proposed maps weaken the three districts represented by women while supporting the eight districts represented by men.  Dr. Kim Gower, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said, “powerful women are being shoved to the side.”  She warned it could “become a huge social justice nightmare.”  Except for the concern about the possible loss of women as representatives, there were no other mentions of specific incumbents.

Monica Hutchinson and Harold Cothern, both Western Henrico residents, expressed concerns about unnecessarily shifting black voters from the 7th which could result in packing the 4th Congressional District.  Ms. Hutchinson also said it “is not OK to minimize Hispanic community voice and power.”  She pointed out that materials are still provided only in English with no support for language minorities.  Lois Maiden-McCray, speaking for the National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization (NBNRO), supported the proposed maps and applauded the transparency of the process.  “The proposed maps give minorities increased opportunity.”  She also pointed out that the NBNRO has Spanish redistricting training on their channel.

Charles Kromkowski of the University of Virginia Department of Politics advised there is a problem with the prison adjusted data as it does not include racial and ethnic data. “This could create problems with the Voting Rights Act.”  He also pointed out that the draft plans need “benchmarking” for comparison.

Testimony from Legislators – 

Senator Richard Stuart was the only Virginia legislator to speak at Wednesday’s hearing. He explained “the Northern Neck is a distinct geographic area with very distinct communities of interest  which face special challenges due to its isolation by the rivers and its rural nature. It is the Northernmost peninsula in Virginia on the Eastern side of Virginia bounded by two rivers and the Chesapeake Bay:  the Potomac on the North and the Rappahannock on the South, and yet, the Special Masters cut it into three different districts.”  He pointed out that “the true boundaries of the Northern Neck run from the top of Northumberland and Lancaster counties, where it meets the Chesapeake Bay all the way to Eastern Stafford County.”  

Jeffrey Wice, counsel to the House Democratic Caucus submitted two maps for consideration, one preferred version developed prior to the release of the Special Master’s maps and a second providing adjustments to the proposed SM maps which minimize “unnecessary changes to existing maps.”  NOTE:  These and other maps submitted by the public and others in response to the Special Master maps are available through the Court’s Redistricting Information page. 

Crystal Vanuch, Chair of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors and Supervisor for the Rock Hill District testified that urban development is restricted in western Stafford County because of its proximity to Quantico Marine Corps Base. By using Quantico and Aquia Creek as boundary lines for SD27 and HD64, they are putting a rural part of the county with Prince William County.  A solution would be to use Route 610 as the boundary line instead of Aquia Creek.

Gary Hodnett, mayor of Hurt, advocated for his community to remain with Pittsylvania County in Del. Adams’ District 48.

Roderick Williams, County Attorney for Frederick County, thanked the Special Masters for not splitting the county and asked for adjustments to the House District boundaries in order to conform with their new magisterial districts and precincts.

Testimony from College students – Russell Swartz of Henrico County opposed the breaking up of “communities of interest” in the Richmond area. A sophomore at Virginia Tech, he advocated for “Keep central Virginia strong!”  He felt the weakening of central Virginia is “killing youth engagement.” Madeline Doane of Campus Vote Project asked the Special Masters to not split college campuses in the proposed CD4 and CD1  She spoke of particular concerns about the House district around Virginia Commonwealth University.

Positive comments on the maps, Special Masters, and Justices – 

Cathy Lowe, former mayor of Abingdon appreciated that they kept Washington County and Bristol together.  The proposed Senate District 6  is good though it’s hard losing a House District due to population decline.

Carl Anderson of Hampton commended the Court, “Do not let the naysayers dissuade you from implementing outstanding maps.”  “Once you start tinkering around the edges, it never ends.”  He also said, “Your methods should be the new gold standard for other states.”

Josiah Toepfer of Falls Church thanked the Special Masters for a good job done.  He sees  improvement with the geographic boundaries significantly different.  He has concerns about female representation, but felt it is up to the voters. He also commented, “different views within a district are extremely important for our democratic society.”

Chris DeRosa, a long-time resident of Arlington and volunteer for fair maps, thanked the Justices and Special Masters for their work.  The Arlington maps make sense, are compact, and reflect communities of interest.  Transparency is a win for democracy.

Liz White, Director of OneVirginia2021, thanked the Justices and Special Masters for working hard to engage the public.  “This is the most transparent process Virginia has ever seen.” She also reminded the Special Masters of the metrics for success:  compact and competitive, accurately representing partisan balance, respect communities of interest and municipal boundaries, and provide opportunities for minority representation.

Dr. Kim Gower, VCU professor thanked the behind the scenes administrative staff as well.

As the hearing concluded at 3:37 p.m., Justice Lemons encouraged citizens who were unable to sign up to speak at the hearings to email the Court with their concerns at

All public comment, including written comments, must be submitted by 1:00 pm on December 20, 2021. 

 

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SCoVA Posts Draft Maps and Invitation to Hearings

On December 8, the Supreme Court of Virginia (SCoVA) announced that the proposed maps prepared by the Court’s Special Masters Sean P. Trende and Bernard N. Grofman have been posted on the Court’s public website. The press release also encouraged the public to comment on the draft maps at public hearings which will be held virtually on December 15 and 17.

The three draft redistricting maps include a single map for the Virginia House of Delegates, a single map for the Senate of Virginia, and a single map for Virginia’s representatives to the United States House of Representatives. There are PDF versions and “interactive” versions which allow users to comment directly on the maps. The Special Masters’ written report which accompanied the maps indicated they “have worked together to develop any plan” and the maps “reflect a true join effort on our part.” 

Their 53-page report further described their approach. “We carefully drew districts that met constitutional and statutory population requirements.  In doing so, we minimized county and city splits, while respecting natural boundaries and communities of interest (“COIs”) to the extent possible.  We attempted to draw compact districts, although equal population requirements and Virginia’s geography often conspired to limit our ability to do so.” 

The report provides more specific details on their methodology and choices for location of Congressional, State Senate and House districts. They instituted “nesting” by carving Senate districts out of the U.S. House districts and then drew the House of Delegates districts out of Senate districts.  “Overlapping jurisdictions helps ensure communities of interest that underlay the House of Delegates districts have multiple layers of representation.” 

In addition, their report explained –

  • “The Statutory Criteria make no mention of protecting incumbents. We therefore maintained ignorance about the residences of incumbents.” They plan on “maintaining that ignorance . . . unless otherwise instructed by the Court.”
  • To avoid possible scrutiny and questions from the Supreme Court of the U.S., they drew districts without race as the predominant interest. They believe they have provided “maps that do at least as well or better as the current map in terms of creating districts where the minority community has a realistic opportunity to elect a candidate of choice.”
  • They carefully reviewed the communities of interest submitted by Virginia’s residents to the Virginia Redistricting Commission. They also reviewed data from Representable, a nonprofit organization that allows individuals to draw their communities of interest and attempted to incorporate COIs where ever possible. They broadened the definition of COI to include “shared broadcast and print media, transport infrastructure and institutions such as schools and churches” which were part of a U.S. Supreme Court list. They also were “mindful of the Blue Ridge Mountains as an important geographic divider in Virginia’ history.” They acknowledged there may be other communities of interest of which they’re not aware and “look forward to receiving the commentary of this Court and of the public to help improve the map in this regard.”
  • They felt by adhering to the statutory criteria, “We minimize the risk of any undue favoritism toward either party. It would be difficult to draw gerrymanders under these constraints had we wanted to.”  Once the maps were drawn, they examined the political data in their totality using several different measures. “No single measure is perfect but all we have examined lead to similar conclusions that the maps we drew were neutrally drawn.”  A footnote referred to the legal judgement as to whether any map satisfies the constitutional requirement not to “unduly favor or disfavor any political party” as one that must be made by SCoVA.
  • They opted to retain the traditional numbering of the districts to facilitate public comment, but left open the possibility of renumbering the districts in a sensible manner.

In the December 8 press release, the Court also announced that two virtual public hearings will be held December 15 and 17 from 1 – 4 p.m. to receive public comment on the proposed plans. 

No in-person public hearings are scheduled, but members of the public, including elected officials, are invited to attend the virtual hearings and provide live comments virtually.  There will be an option just to view the hearings, but in order to offer public comment, participants must notify the Clerk of Court by sending an email at least 24 hours in advance to and indicating which of the dates they prefer. Further detailed instructions are on the press release and members of the public will be emailed instructions on what to expect and how to participate. The email should include the requestor’s name and email address, and where they reside in the Commonwealth.

The Court also encouraged the public to continue to submit written comments to and to comment on the maps proposed by the Special Masters directly on the interactive maps on the Court’s website. Written comments must be submitted by 1 p.m. on December 20, 2021 in order to be reviewed by the Court or its Special Masters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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Party Leaders Submit Additional Nominees to Be Special Masters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Supreme Court of Virginia Announces Nominees for Special Master

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

The nominees for special master from the Democratic Caucuses are –

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

The Republican Caucuses nominated –

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

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

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

 

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Commission Stalled on Congressional District Maps!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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