The Virginia Redistricting Commission returned Saturday, October 2 for one final opportunity to put together “something” for the public to comment on at the hearings which are to begin Monday. Presiding Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko stressed it will be extremely important for the public to comment. By lunchtime, it was apparent that reaching consensus on one map each for the House and Senate was a “bar too high.” Babichenko cautioned, “because we agree on pieces does not mean the entire map is consensus. These are working maps and they don’t represent a consensus.
As the commissioners reviewed House maps A6 and B6, complaints continued about the difficulty in comparing statistics because some districts cross “regions”. This was resolved after lunch with an analysis prepared by the Division of Legislative Services (DLS).
There was also differing advice from the Democratic and Republican lawyers on requirements for using “opportunity districts” to ensure African Americans are able to elect candidates of their choice. Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), speaking for the benefits of “opportunity districts”, warned that packing can dilute African American voting strength. “We don’t have to put a bunch of black folks in a district to get that opportunity.” Co-chair Greta Harris saw independent analysis of political fairness and racial representation as a way to move forward. She also implored citizens as they commented next week to “look to their better angels” and “consider what is good for other citizens that have been historically disenfranchised in our political system.”
Concerns were raised as to whether map drawers had included all the proposed changes so far from the Commission. Several commissioners complained about increased split jurisdictions in the newest maps. Map drawers acknowledged an attempt to eliminate pairings but weren’t sure how far to go because of public backlash. There were questions as to why neither attempted to take into account Sen. Barker’s recommended Richmond map that could have yielded another majority-minority district. Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville) also said the map drawers didn’t explore other changes in the Hampton Roads area for bringing districts together. “It’s frustrating that we’re not seeing our directions on their maps.”
The possibility of heightened partisanship by the map drawers was considered. Co-chair Babichenko strongly reminded map drawers and counsel that they are asked not to advocate for particular maps. “Now is the time for us to make decisions.” The division between the map drawers was also evident several times as the Democratic counsel asked that Republican map drawers stick to a discussion of their own maps.
There was lengthy debate on how many maps the Commission should post for public comments; whether to use a coin toss to decide which specific maps to use; and whether to include any changes from the map drawers through the end of that day. Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) was thanked by her fellow commissioners for introducing some optimism in the proceedings with a personal story of repeated attempts to bake a cake – and her eventual success.
While it was hoped the final draft Commission maps would be posted by 5 p.m., Division of Legislative Services (DLS) attorney Meg Lamb expressed concerns about the agency’s ability to respond that quickly. The result was that the Senate maps were posted as A5 and B4 and House maps as A7 and B6. Two of the maps were dated October 2 and two were posted in the early morning hours of October 3. The Commission website would also include links to maps submitted by the public.
MORE COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE COMMISSION MEETING FOLLOW –