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