A determined group of speakers showed up with maps and details July 20 to describe to five members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission how their communities had been divided up and their legislative and congressional districts redrawn for political purposes in previous rounds of redistricting.
Thirteen persons spoke in-person at Old Dominion University in Norfolk and another three participated virtually. While some had different points of emphasis, almost all of them called for the commission to start its work “from scratch” and to strive to respect jurisdictional boundaries and areas with shared interests as much as they could.
The second of the commission’s four in-person public hearings was led by Democratic Co-Chair Greta Harris of Richmond, and attended by Democratic citizen member Brandon Hutchins of Virginia Beach and Republican citizen member Richard Harrell of South Boston. Also attending were Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) and Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church), who arrived late, apologizing to a sympathetic audience that “neither tunnel was a good option this morning.” Although the commission has sought to have balanced partisan representation at all of its hearing, no Republican legislator participated in person. (Video recordings of the hearings are archived for later review by the public and other commissioners.)
Several speakers urged the commission to hold more of its hearings and meetings outside of regular business hours so that more people would be able to attend. Two speakers made a point of saying that they were speaking on behalf of others who could not attend because they had to work. Another said she had been unable to monitor the commission’s business, but had taken time off from her job to participate. Harris acknowledged the problem, and said that the commission had tried to schedule its hearings at different times of the day to accommodate different schedules.
At the start of the hearing, Harris asserted that commission members were there to “listen to the citizens of the Commonwealth.” She explained that the commissioners would not be taking questions or engaging in debate. She added that they were particularly interested in hearing about considerations that the commission should take into account, including information about “communities of interest.” But she stressed that “all comments will be heard.” She reminded those present or watching online that “map drawing begins in less than 30 days.”
At the start of the livestream of the commission’s first in-person hearing the week before, Harris’s remarks and those of two speakers could not be heard by remote participants, but that was not an issue this time. While it was difficult for persons listening online to hear the comments of persons who participated virtually, Simon assured listeners that the commissioners in the room were able to hear those comments.
Harris did respond to the question of one participant, who said she did not have comments but wanted to know more about the commission’s process for drawing the maps and receiving public input on them. Harris explained that the commission would hold another round of hearings in September, and referred the speaker to the commission’s website for more details.
At the commission’s first in-person hearing in Farmville, a group of residents from Lynchburg had urged members to reunite their city into a single district. The second hearing, designated for the Hampton Roads area, heard from residents from a wider range of localities, armed with specifics and sometimes maps, to describe the incongruities of the districts where they lived.