Redistricting Commission Steps Up Pace of Work on Key Decisions

The Virginia Redistricting Commission stepped up the pace of its work at its May 10 meeting, setting a more aggressive schedule of subcommittee meetings in the month of May to make key decisions regarding its budget and procurements and  plans for managing citizen outreach and  public input.

Under the new timetable, the commission’s Citizen Engagement Subcommittee will meet first, on Monday May 17 at 2 p.m., to help provide guidance to the Budget and Finance Subcommittee, which will hold its first meeting on Wednesday May 19 at 2 p.m. The Citizen Engagement Subcommittee scheduled additional meetings on May 20 at 10 a.m. and Wednesday May 26 at 10 a.m. Budget and Finance plans additional meetings on Tuesday May 25 at 10 a.m. and Thursday May 27 at 10 a.m. The full commission still plans to meet on Monday May 24 at 10 a.m., when it is scheduled to receive a presentation on the 2020 census.

Like the commission, the subcommittees are co-chaired by citizen members and evenly divided between parties, between citizens and legislators and between members of the chambers of the General Assembly.  Meetings will all be open to the public and other commissioners, but only subcommittee members can vote on recommendations to the full commission.

The subcommittees’ deliberations will likely be guided by an overview the commissioners received at their latest meeting by Brooks Braun, a Division of Legislative Services member, who analyzed the budget and operations of the country’s 11 citizen-led redistricting commissions. Braun said that DLS hoped to “provide you with some context so you’re not groping in the dark.” The materials Braun prepared and assembled were posted at the meeting and have been added to the Materials document available here. 

Braun noted that Virginia’s commission was the only one with both legislator and citizen members. Of the states with citizen-led commissions, he noted that Virginia was “probably most like Colorado, Michigan and Washington,” in terms of size, and might be closest demographically to Washington in terms of its diversity  and its mix of industries.

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League Co-Sponsors “Deep Dive” Into Redistricting on May 12

The League of Women Voters is joining with other redistricting reform advocacy groups in sponsoring a virtual “Redistricting Deep Dive” on Wednesday May 12, beginning at 10 a.m.

Liz White, executive director of One Virginia 2021, one of the event’s co-sponsors, invited members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission at their May 10 meeting to tune into the webinar to build on the redistricting training they have already received. White said the event’s sponsors had “assembled a lot of the top minds” in the United States on redistricting, including former members of California’s independent redistricting commission.

The webinar is free and open to the public, and will be recorded for future viewing. Click here to register. 

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Follow-Up to LWV’s (Virtual) Day of Action on Redistricting

The League of Women Voters of Virginia had a good turnout for its (Virtual) Day of Action on Redistricting on April 29. 

If you missed the webinar–or would like to see it again–you can view it here.

Here is a list of key links that was shared during the presentation.

Here is a copy of the slides that were used during the presentation. 

For more information about how the League of Women Voters of the U.S. is advocating for redistricting reform, click here. 

If you would like to contact the League of Women Voters of Virginia about scheduling a program about redistricting or arrange for a training session on some of the redistricting map-drawing tools, click here. 

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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Census Bureau Confirms Virginia Will Have 11 Congressional Districts

The U.S. Census Bureau released its reapportionment numbers for the 2020 Census, and confirmed that Virginia will continue to have 11 congressional districts for the next decade. 

At a press conference, Dr. Ron S. Jarmin, the bureau’s acting director, reported that six states would gain congressional seats while seven would lose seats. With a newly counted national population of 331,449, 281 persons, a Member of Congress, on average nationwide, will represent 761,169 persons, an increase of about 50,000 over the past decade. 

The bureau reported that Virginia has 8,654,542 persons, or 786,776.5 persons per congressional district, a standard that will guide congressional map-drawing this year. That is about 56,000 more persons per congressional district than was tabulated in 2011. 

States in the South region, which includes Virginia, grew the most over the past decade, by 10.2 percent. But Jarmin said that was a lower rate of growth than the previous decade. Nationwide, the population grew by 7.4 percent, but Jarmin said that was the lowest growth rate since the 1930s.

Jarmin reiterated that all states will receive the Census data they need to begin the redistricting process by August 16, with final data provided by September 30. Unlike previous years, all states will receive their data at the same time. 

Jarmin asserted that Census officials were confident of the accuracy and statistical reliability of this year’s data and released analyses to back that up. 

The results of the 2020 Census were delayed this year because of issues related to the pandemic and other factors. As a result, members of the Virginia House of Delegates will have to run in their current districts, as there will not be adequate time for the new Virginia Redistricting Commission to complete its work after receiving the final Census data that it will need. 

For more information on the Census Bureau’s report, click here. 

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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Redistricting Commission Organizes Subcommittees to Move Forward

The Virginia Redistricting Commission April 26 organized itself into two subcommittees to delve more deeply into its work and began to discuss some of the larger issues it will face in the year ahead.  

Before the start of the meeting, the commissioners were able to view a 25-minute video presentation, “Redistricting 101,” prepared by the Division of Legislative Services staff. It covered pertinent federal and state legislation and court precedents, details of the information that the U.S. Census Bureau will provide, and more specifics about the software and computer resources that have been acquired to support the commission’s work. The presentation can be viewed here

At the end of the presentation, DLS attorney Meg Lamb explained that the General Assembly’s Joint Reapportionment Committee was still responsible for managing the census data, but was no longer controlled redistricting. However, she explained that last October, when the committee was still in charge and “when this decision needed to be made,” it voted to include the addresses of incumbent legislators in the redistricting base maps. Lamb noted that “using incumbent addresses to avoid incumbent pairing,” that is, forcing two or more incumbents to run against each other, “is an accepted factor to consider in redistricting.” She said it was a criteria that had been adopted in previous cycles, “but we can certainly revisit the issue if you all would like.” 

When Co-chair Greta Harris asked if there were questions about the presentation, Democratic citizen member Sean Kumar said he wanted to have a better understanding of the legal constraints on how the commission would approach its work and whether it would merely tweak existing boundaries or start “from scratch.” Kumar noted that the use of incumbent addresses was an issue the commission would face.  

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Join the League’s National Day of Action on Redistricting April 29

The Virginia League of Women Voters invites you to be part of the League’s National Day of Action on Redistricting by joining a webinar on Thursday April 29 from 7-8:30  p.m.
 
The Zoomed event will feature LWV experts from Virginia and other community activists who will review the timetable for the new bipartisan, citizen-led Virginia Redistricting Commission and discuss how Virginians can help ensure that fair maps are drawn for their communities this year.
 
The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required to receive the link. Click here to  reserve your spot. Click here to learn more about other plans for the national League’s “People-Powered Day of Action.” 
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Redistricting Commission Takes Steps Toward Fleshing Out Plans

The Virginia Redistricting Commission held its third official meeting April 12, taking some more steps toward fleshing out its plans and procedures going forward.

The commission has scheduled its next meetings, all on Mondays from 10 a.m. to noon, for April 26, May 10 and May 24. The agenda of the next meeting is scheduled to include a presentation on “Redistricting 101,” and the Division of Legislative Services staff indicated that that presentation might be pre-recorded to help make more efficient use of the commission’s meeting times. A scheduled presentation for the latest meeting, covering Robert’s Rules of Order, talking to the media and talking with the general public, was shared with the commissioners in a pre-taped video.

Presentation slides said that the Virginia Code did not permit commission members, staff or consultants to “individually engage with interested citizens or groups regarding the redistricting process outside of formal public meetings or hearings.” The protocol, it said, “ensures full transparency and accountability, and the integrity of our process.” Co-Chair Greta Harris noted that the DLS staff had drafted suggested email messages for commissioners to use when responding to the public so that they would stay within the rules and promote transparency.

DLS staff member Julie Smith described planned improvements for the commission’s website, but did not provide a timeline by which the improvements would be completed. Smith said that in the future, interested persons will be able to subscribe to be notified when redistricting-related updates are made. In addition, the website will seek to address Frequently Asked Questions about Read more

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Redistricting Commission Sets Next Meeting for April 12

The Virginia Redistricting Commission will hold its next meeting on Monday April 12 from 10 a.m. to noon. The commission’s previously announced schedule was modified after Sen. Mamie Locke, one of the legislator members, said she would be unable to attend the announced dates. 

The commission may also meet on April 26 and May 10, but those dates are not yet official. 

The agenda for the next meeting will be posted here. The session will include a presentation by the Division of Legislative Services staff on meeting etiquette. A video of the commission’s last meeting and other materials are also available. 

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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Commission Discusses Proposed Timeline, FOIA Rules

Co-chair Greta Harris presided over the second meeting of the Virginia Redistricting Commission on Tuesday morning, March 30.  The Commissioners considered the proposed timeline  which is summarized in our March 25 blog post.

The first point for discussion was whether the days of the meetings could be changed.  It was recommended that the Division of Legislative Services staff (DLS) would poll members offline so personal schedules could be consulted in more detail.  The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 13 but watch this blog for alerts to any changes.

Census data now expected to arrive by mid-August.

 It was then announced that rather than September 30, the Census data would be available the second week in August.  It will be in a different format than the data which will follow in late September. 

Meg Lamb, an attorney with DLS, told the commission the state should not have any problem using the data despite the format questions.  The numbers for prison reallocation were compiled in summer 2020 so these figures also will not be an issue.  The mid-August arrival of the Census data will trigger the “45 day” timeline. 

Introduction to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Commission members will generally rely on DLS for guidance, but an introduction to FOIA was provided for the benefit of new Commission members and the public.  Alan Gernhardt, executive director, Freedom of Information Advisory Council,  presented the slide program. (Begins on page 4.)

Of note –

  • Anytime three or more members of the Commission gather to talk Commission business, they are subject to Virginia’s Open Meetings Law which means they must provide the public with advance notice, the opportunity to watch, and minutes.
  • DLS staff do not count toward the number of members.
  • For Commission work, legislator members must follow the same rules as citizen members. (Usual exemptions for legislators under FOIA will not apply.)  This question was specifically asked by citizen commissioner Sean Kumar.
  • All votes must be taken at properly noticed public meetings. No secret ballots or even written ballots. Otherwise, votes are void.
  • Each Commissioner should use their special Commission email addresses and use DLS to distribute information.
  • Social media may be public records and subject to FOIA if used to transact public business.
  • Penalties through the courts can be costly.
  • The Zoom “Chat” is FOIAble and could become a closed meeting within a meeting. Alan Gernhardt pointed out that a Commissioner on the phone would not be able to see the “Chat”.   More to come on this issue.

For more specifics, we were referred to the Virginia Code on FOIA.

Public Comments

Written Public Comments are available on the DLS website.

18 members of the public also registered to speak but, in the end, 12 spoke.  Some referred to their written public comments which were previously submitted.  There were a wide range of comments:

  • Several who represented advocacy groups stressed the importance of transparency, fostering citizen participation, and ensuring meetings are more accessible to the public. It is essential that meetings and materials be available in Spanish and other languages.
  • Detailed suggestions were presented for a Commission website and included a 5-state survey of the best features of other Commission websites.
  • Citizen members were urged to be the voice of Virginians and stand up against incumbent protection.
  • Individuals also presented a redistricting strategy for Virginia congressional districts and called for the city of Lynchburg to be unified in one district.

TIP – If you want to speak before the Commission, you need to register through the DLS site when the meeting is announced.  This needs to be done early as requests to speak are not accepted the morning of the meeting.  You will then receive a Zoom link that you should use to access the meeting so they can connect to you when it is your time to comment.  It cannot be shared with others.

Observer Corps Reporters: 

Carolyn Caywood, LWV-SHR

Chris DeRosa, LWV-ARL

Peggy Layne, LWV-MC

Fran Larkins, LWV-FRA

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Redistricting Commission to Review Timeline for Its Work

The Virginia Redistricting Commission will consider a draft timeline for its work over the next year when it meets on March 30. In addition, members will receive training on the requirements of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

The meeting can be accessed through this link.  Persons who wish to make public comments during the March 30 meeting can register here. Person who wish to comment on an agenda item should send an email to . (Comments will be posted in full, including the name of the commenter and any contact information provided.)

The proposed timeline envisions a six-stage process, tied to the receipt of the U.S. Census data, which has been delayed this year. In the draft, the Division of Legislative Services (DLS) anticipates receiving the Census data by the second week of August, an earlier date than the U.S. Census Bureau had previously announced. (Normally, Virginia and New Jersey receive their data earlier than other states, but this year’s delays will mean that House of Delegates districts will not change for this year’s elections.)

Under the constitutional amendment, the commission has 45 days to prepare its maps for the Senate and House of Delegates for consideration by the General Assembly. Under the amendment, Congressional maps must be submitted within 60 days. In addition, enabling legislation specified that once the Census data is received, DLS must adjust it within 30 days to reflect the home addresses of prison inmates. 

The timeline sets short-term meeting dates for April 13, April 27, and May 11, all beginning at 10 a.m. The agendas are for the early meetings are largely focused on administrative decisions and training for the commissioners.  Here is the proposed schedule:

Phase 1: Preparation for Commission Work—March to April: During this time, commissioners would receive training on administrative issues, set the commission’s budget, and develop procedures for public participation and keeping a record of commission meetings.

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