“New Voting Maps in Virginia” – 30-minute Radio Conversation with WEHC’s Teresa Keller and Peggy Layne (LWV-Montgomery Co.) and Chris DeRosa, Co-Coordinator, LWV-VA Redistricting Committee. Aired January 5 and will air again Sunday, January 9 at 2 p.m. Tune in to www.wehcfm.com.
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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The Virginia Redistricting Commission met Monday, October 18 but, without a quorum present, no business could be conducted, or votes taken. The meeting instead began with comments, many negative, from fifteen citizens who were concerned about the impact on their communities of the Commission’s C1 map.
The commissioners then took advantage of the “down time” to be outspoken about their views. Their “no holds barred” comments included strong criticism of the other party’s intentions. They began with Del. Marcus Simon’s (D-Falls Church) accusations that the Republican maps may have been “actually drawn by the National Republican Redistricting Trust (NRRT). Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Chatham) then criticized Del. Simon for making an “accusation like collusion” just because two out of eleven districts are identical. Sen. Stanley suggested he could “make the accusation that this Delegate (Simon) was put on this Commission to ‘blow it up’ since he was opposed to this Commission.” When the charged atmosphere ebbed, Del. Margaret Ransone (R-Kinsale) expressed hope that “we get the train back on the tracks.”
After Del. Ransone’s call to start talking about maps, the discussion turned to how to adjust for partisan fairness. Both counsels agreed the U.S. Supreme Court will not hear cases on partisan gerrymandering and there is no Virginia case law to guide the Commission. They presented their analyses of Commission map C1 with Democrat Dr. Kareem Crayton calculating that C1 includes five Republican districts, five Democratic, and one leaning Democratic. Crayton also said, “we should hopefully all be able to agree that when a majority of the people of Virginia express a preference for a political party, the map should at least reflect a majority of seats for that party.” He also presented a report from the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) on criteria for partisan fairness in other states.
The Republican lawyers had prepared a memorandum which was available to the commissioners shortly before their meeting. Counsels Chris Bartolomucci and Bryan Tyson gave their opinion that map C1, if adopted, would not violate Virginia statute because Virginia Code does not expressly demand “proportional representation” – awarding the two major political parties a number of congressional districts proportional to their share of the vote in statewide elections.
Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville) pointed out, “When we come back on Wednesday, we will have to come to consensus on what the language means as we go through the other criteria.” In response to a question about how to direct the map drawers to resolve some of the citizen comments about map C1, Del. Simon suggested “nothing stops us from sending an email to the co-chairs and staff asking for things for the next meeting.”
This next meeting of the Commission will be Wednesday, October 20 at 8 a.m. There is also a virtual public hearing scheduled for Friday, October 22, but a decision on whether to move ahead with that hearing will be decided Wednesday when there is a quorum.
PUBLIC COMMENTS AND MORE COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE COMMISSION MEETING FOLLOW –
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 –
With eight virtual public hearings scheduled to start Monday, October 4th, the Virginia Redistricting Commission met Friday, October 1st, amid concerns expressed by presiding co-chair Greta Harris that they are “literally running out of time.” The day’s goal was to finish maps for the Hampton Roads and Eastern regions and proceed to Central, West Central, Valley and Northern Virginia. Progress was hampered, however, by technical issues and a substitute map drawer who was not totally up-to-speed on the progress so far. There was also time-consuming debate about how to move forward after review of each regional map. With each party justifying their preferred versions, questions were also raised about the number of maps to put forward and what would be most helpful to the public.
Major attention at Friday’s meeting was given to determining the number of “majority-minority districts”, as well as “coalition” and “opportunity districts” in Hampton Roads and the Central region which includes Richmond. These were areas determined by Dr. Maxwell Palmer to have racially polarized voting (RPV). There was considerable confusion, particularly for the Hampton Roads area as to which districts were in the “footprint” for each region, so the figures were difficult to compare.
There was also division on whether data from the 2017 Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax election could be used to determine performance of the district or suggest “packing.”
The Commission is now returning on Saturday to complete three remaining areas. They will start at 9 a.m. and go as long as needed to finish up the maps in time for the public to review at the hearings.
MORE COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE COMMISSION MEETING FOLLOW –
Revised A5 (Republican) and B5 (Democrat) maps had been loaded overnight Thursday by the Division of Legislative Services (DLS) and the commissioners did not have an opportunity to look at any changes before the meeting began at 8 a.m. Friday. For the first hour, the new maps were shown only on the big screen and not on their individual laptops which made it difficult to view. A further wrinkle was that Republican map drawer John Morgan was not available and an alternative team member, Kent Stigall substituted for him. Stigall had a few hours to review the maps but was at a disadvantage and not able to answer Commissioner questions as quickly about the new proposed map.
Beginning with the Democrats B5 map, map drawer Ken Strasma said they had tried to work with the Republican version and made a number of changes in their B4 map in response to comments and debate, focusing on population and competitiveness. Some districts were redrawn with an eye toward compactness. They specifically tried to see if they could lower the % deviation to create more opportunity in surrounding districts.
While both map drawers referred to the two Hampton Roads maps as “substantially similar,” the Democratic counsel, Dr. Kareem Crayton expressed “grave concerns” about a pattern of “packing” in several districts. He used data from the 2017 election of African American Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax to suggest some districts were overpopulated. Republican counsel Bryan Tyson, however, warned, “It is dangerous to use the Voting Rights Act to enforce political outcomes. The question is whether you could have created another district? The population is barely on the edge. I don’t see a packing issue here.”
The commissioners continued to frequently ask about the election results for these districts with the 2017 election of African American Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax used as an example. Further questions were also asked about what percent creates “packing.” Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Falls Church) Locke asked about the basis for the challenge in the Bethune-Hill court case. Republican counsel Bryan Tyson said, “It is important to remember that in the Section 2 case, it was a two-step process. Did you include too many African Americans and then the special master reduced it. At that point, the districts were below 50%.”
Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) mentioned she considers Hampton Roads to be Tidewater and the Peninsula. She would like to maximize “opportunity districts” as much as possible. “We’re getting there. Sen. Barker has pointed out that Suffolk and Franklin are part of the Hampton Roads planning district and should be considered part of Hampton Roads. I’m not totally unhappy with what I’ve seen so far.” Citizen commissioner James Abrenio of Fairfax asked, “Sounds like we’re on the same page about creating another “effective opportunity district.” Why are we not moving forward with this?”
When DLS attorney Meg Lamb asked for instructions on whether to move ahead with the Republican (A5) or Democrat (B5) map as the base for the Hampton Roads region, there was a lengthy debate on the best way to move forward. Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church began by saying he hadn’t heard any objections to the B team (Democrat) map so “let’s adopt that approach and move on up the coast.” Co-chair Harris (Democrat) agreed, “Since there was accommodation for the Republican map on Wednesday, let’s take the Dems version today.” Sen. McDougle objected, saying in order to move the ball forward, they should take the Strasma plan (B5) for south Hampton Roads and use the A5 version for the Peninsula. “Split the baby. It’s up to us to do it.” Read more
The Virginia Redistricting Commission began its detailed review of draft maps for the House of Delegates on September 29, but after four hours of discussion, was able to consider only three of the regions it had planned to review. The commission will meet again on Friday, October 1 at 8 a.m., and has scheduled its first weekend meeting at 9 a.m. on Saturday October 2.
The agendas have not yet been posted, but the October 1 meeting is likely to focus on House maps beyond the three areas it reviewed on September 29, namely the Southwest, Southside and Hampton Roads regions. Previously, the commission had expected to review a revised map for Senate maps on Saturday. While a Sunday meeting has not been formally announced yet, that prospect was referenced during the meeting.
With eight virtual public hearings scheduled to start on Monday October 4, the Division of Legislative Services staff was asked what the commission was required to decide before the mandated hearings begin. DLS attorney Meg Lamb said there was “no legal prohibition” on putting forth alternatives, but said the staff “would encourage a draft that is close to complete. I think there would be a concern about multiple versions going forward.” Republican counsel Bryan Tyson echoed that point, suggesting that once the differing versions are “schmushed together,” it will be harder to make major changes.
The commissioners started their consideration with the Southwest region, working eastward across the state to Southside and then Hampton Roads. Once again debate over the southeast corner of the state centered on issues related to redistricting minority communities. Legislative commissioners were still reluctant to take formal votes, while others suggested map drawers needed more guidance. Near the end of the meeting, several Democratic members suggested there was a consensus to support the map the Republican map drawer had produced for District 77 in Southside, and to meld the Hampton Roads districts drawn by the Democratic map drawer, which seemed to create more districts where the non-white population was more than 40 percent, if still short of a majority. But Republican Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko cut that discussion off to permit time for public comment before the meeting had to end. Only one of three virtual commenters who had signed up then appeared.
As the commission worked through the maps, members demonstrated the importance of geographic diversity on the commission as members contributed their personal knowledge of different parts of the state. Democratic commissioners Greta Harris and James Abrenio shared that they had lived in the southwest part of the state when they were children, and Republican Commissioner Richard Harrell, a retired trucking executive, drew on his knowledge of trucking routes through the Blue Ridge mountains.
Map drawers had been asked to try to avoid “incumbent pairings,” that is, when incumbents are pitted against each other, in their latest iterations. But commission members quickly focused on a boundary that separated two incumbents in Washington County, rather than keeping the county intact. Harris and Democratic commissioner Sean Kumar expressed concern that too much emphasis had been placed on unpairing incumbents at the expense of criteria they considered more important.
At previous meetings, legislative members had argued that the commission would eventually have to review incumbent addresses and pairings for purposes of determining whether their maps disadvantaged a political party. Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) noted that because of declines in population, the Southwest was likely to lose a seat in the House of Delegates. Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville) said he didn’t disagree with Kumar’s concerns, but that he wanted those concerns “to be remembered when we go to Northern Virginia and Hampton Read more
With its deadline rapidly approaching, the Virginia Redistricting Commission rolled up its sleeves September 27 and spent six and a half hours reviewing draft maps for Virginia’s 40 Senate districts.
The starting point was a single map that was hammered out over the weekend by its two co-chairs, its two partisan map drawers and legal counsel and the Division of Legislative Services staff. The meeting began with the two map drawers each describing the map to the commission, noting that with a bit more flexibility on population deviations, they had been able to reduce the number of split counties. They also succeeded in eliminating all but one potential “incumbent pairing,” (where two incumbents are placed in the same district). (In some cases, they noted, incumbents plan to retire before the new boundaries take effect.) They also discussed how the plan sought to increase new opportunities for the state’s growing minority population to win legislative seats.
Following their presentation, Democratic Co-Chair Greta Harris said, “I was probably wrong in stating that it was a consensus map. Each map drawer is coming at it from a different perspective.” But working with their partisan advisers, the co-chairs worked out a compromise for the commission to discuss as a whole.
The longest debate surrounded differing approaches to drawing districts for the Hampton Roads area, a part of the state where an analysis has found that Racially Polarized Voting, or differences between white voters and minority voters, occurs. After a long discussion, including a break to give the map drawers a chance to try and reach a compromise, Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) moved that Democratic approach be incorporated into the draft map. Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville) immediately offered a substitute motion in favor of the Republican approach. Simon wondered aloud what was going on and why the two sides have “dug in so hard on the differences. . . ?” Lawyers explained that the major difference was where and how the district on the Eastern Shore joined the mainland, and the effect that had on dividing up the jurisdictions in the southeast corner of the state, and their minority populations.
When the vote came, the commission split along partisan lines, until Simon, realizing that Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) had had to step out, voted along with the Republicans. That permitted him to introduce a motion to reconsider the vote late in the meeting, “in the interests of comity.” This time, the commission agreed by voice vote to let the map drawers try to work out a compromise.
At the end of the meeting, Harris detailed several other issues for the map drawers to review, many of them raised by the public at this meeting and previous ones, when they prepare their next Senate map, due by October 2 for posting before the public hearings begin:
Seven Virginians spoke to the Commission at its 8th and final public hearing before the census arrives. The virtual hearing on Thursday, August 5, at 6 pm, was attended by six Commissioners – 4 citizen Commissioners and 2 Legislator members. At the request of Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko, Delegate Marcus Simon presided over the hearing.
Janet Trettner of Keezletown, VA (Rockingham County) was first to speak. Representing the Rockingham County Democratic Committee (RCDC), she described Rockingham County as “nestled solidly in the Shenandoah Valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains to the East and West Virginia to the west.” She told Commissioners that Rockingham County has two “communities of interest.” One, in the lower part of the county, is urban-suburban with manufacturing, education, and retail “industries,” including three universities and colleges. The other more rural agricultural region is in the western and upper portions of the county. This region of poultry, livestock and produce farming has been identified by USDA as the leading agricultural area of the state of Virginia.
Trettner asked the Commission to consider these two COIs in Rockingham County and to “use the Blue Ridge Mts as a natural boundary of these COIs rather than extend over the mountains.” Trettner also made a unique request of the Commission as it draws the maps: she recommended that they “rename the House, Senate, and Congressional districts to eliminate redundancy.” She explained that the current numbering system results in three sets of districts being identified as #1, 3 more as #2, etc., through #11. When identified by number only, “it’s hard to know if it’s a House, Senate, or Congressional District.” Furthermore, two districts have the same name (HD26 and SD 26). “Give each district a distinct name to eliminate this confusion.”
Three speakers from Shenandoah County called for district maps that makes sense for their county. Kyle Gutshall stated that “it’s clear where myself and many other voters stand when it comes to new districts. This commission has obligations to Virginians, not powerful politicians. That’s why we voted for this commission in November.” His district stretches to DC and he “shouldn’t have to travel 50 or 100 miles to see my representative. My representative should be local to my neighbors and me. We need to allow strong and clear voices without being split down the middle. My vote should count just as much as any other vote in the state of Virginia.”
Brandi Sheetz of Woodstock echoed the request to “Keep Virginia voters in mind, and not politicians, when new maps are drawn. Current districts see our communities split up and limit the power of our local voices. Keep neighbors and neighborhoods together and not split them across waterways just to benefit politicians. Let Northern Virginia and Richmond folks have their own districts, but don’t force me to vote with them when I don’t live near them.”
Travis Cooper reminded the commission that its responsibility is to “draw new districts that are fair.” District maps have “crazy lines that currently exist”. He wants “new districts that are fair, easy to understand and not partisan. I voted for the Redistricting Amendment to make sure folks in Richmond aren’t running the show.” He urges the Commission to “draw a clean map and keep my county together. I want to be able to look at my district and easily see what district I’m in and who represents me. I want to look at my district and see that it makes sense.” Maps “should not be made to benefit any one party; they should be made to benefit Virginia voters as a whole.”
Niro Rasanayagam has lived and paid taxes in Lynchburg for 18 years. “Lynchburg’s social, cultural, and economic interests are different from those of more rural districts to which we have somewhat unnaturally been attached.” She regrets that “rural districts dominate the portfolio” of her representatives and, end up “diluting our community clout, and diminishing our voice in Richmond.” One example of unique issues: “part of the city of Lynchburg has a significantly higher poverty rate, sometimes double that of neighboring rural counties.” Elected officials “must work for and serve this higher needs population.” “Having four districts instead of two is confusing to voters and is impractical. Even the savviest voters have a hard time keeping track of who their representatives are, and what district they’re in. This leads to voter confusion and frustration. Right now, I’m feeling a little powerless.” She also notes that she is very interested in “downtown revitalization but have no say because my delegate does not cover downtown Lynchburg.” Echoing the demands of other Lynchburg speakers at earlier hearings, she concludes, “Please restore the city of Lynchburg into a single COI with a single Delegate district and a single Senate district.”
Student Jack Tueting described the problems his fellow students in Albemarle County face. The students at his high school live in four different House of Delegates districts. “Many seniors can vote, but it doesn’t make sense that they vote in different areas from where they go to school.” He recommended that Albemarle County be divided into two House of Delegates districts that would meet population requirements, while keeping the communities of interest within the county intact. “I hope that the Commission would consider local boundaries of supervisor districts and school districts so that communities are not fractured and can maintain their voice in voting.”
Erin Corbett /VCET (VA Civic Engagement Table) mentioned that some of her participants were having difficulty with the soundfeed on the livestream. She went on to ask the Commission “to really think through the process with which they will facilitate feedback in September. I know this is going to be a lot of quickly moving pieces once (census) arrives. Be really intentional on how you will facilitate feedback on maps and how you will publicize that facilitation… so those interested parties can plan accordingly.”
— Chris DeRosa, LWV-Arlington