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
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
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.
The Virginia Redistricting Commission has scheduled its next meeting for March 30 at 10 a.m. The session will mark the first time the commission has met since its inaugural meeting on January 21, when it elected two co-chairs. The agenda for the meeting is still pending, but will be posted on the redistricting page of the website of the Division of Legislative Services when it is ready.
As members of the Virginia LWV, we eagerly anticipated the opportunity to “be present” as the Redistricting Commission Selection Committee met January 6 to select eight citizen members for the new Virginia Redistricting Commission. With the assistance of the Virginia Division of Legislative Services (DLS), the five retired judges on the Selection Committee were able to Zoom from their homesRead more
The new bi-partisan Virginia Redistricting Commission held its first meeting January 21, and promptly agreed to elect its two women citizen members, one from each party’s contingent, to serve as co-chairs.
The constitutional amendment that was approved in November had specified that a citizen member be elected as chair. But after the members introduced themselves, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, moved that a co-chair be nominated from each party, and Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, who drafted the original version of the amendment, seconded his motion. After Division of Legislative Services staff advised a citizen member that the commission could do that, the commission voted unanimously to elect Greta Harris, a Democratic member from Richmond, and Mackenzie Babichenko, a Republican member from Mechanicsville, as co-chairs. The commission agreed that the co-chairs would alternate leadership of the commission’s meetings, and work together with the DLS staff to prepare future agendas. Harris, 69, is CEO of the non-profit Better Housing Coalition; Babichenko, 39, is an assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Hanover County.
Meg Lamb, an attorney for DLS, reported that it was not clear when the Commonwealth would receive the final U.S. Census data that would enable it to complete its work. Barker said a member of President Biden’s transition team had recently contacted him to discuss the situation because Virginia—and New Jersey—normally would have to redraw their maps this year for legislative elections. Barker said the Virginia Department of Elections had said it could hold primaries for statewide races in June and as late as August 24 for the House of Delegates and still meet statutory deadlines for elections.
But Barker and Newman suggested that in the meantime the commission could begin its work using preliminary data. Barker said population shifts in the state had not been as dramatic as in the recent past. There has been some population growth in the northern part of the state and around Fredericksburg, he noted, with a loss of population in the South. By March, the nationwide reapportionment of congressional seats is expected to be completed, determining how many congressional districts Virginia will have.
Some of the citizen members requested additional guidance regarding transparency requirements and redistricting in general. Lamb said they would all receive copies of the so-called National Conference of State Legislatures “Red Book” on redistricting. (The book is available for purchase by the public through the NCSL website. )
The DLS staff explained that the commission would be able to hire attorneys and consultants, as necessary, to help with its work. It was noted that before the constitutional amendment passed, the General Assembly conducted a procurement and chose the software package Citygate GIS to support its work. Lamb said DLS could further explore other packages that might be publicly available. A number of questions regarding prospective timetables and process will be taken up at future meetings.
At the opening of the meeting, the members introduced themselves. Several of the citizens expressed their “excitement” over being involved. Most said they had spent most of their lives in the state, some residing in different regions over their lifetimes. Following the appointment of the eight citizen members on January 6, concerns were raised about two of the appointees over campaign contributions and comments published on social media. Those issues, however, were not revisited by the commission members at their meeting.
Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, acknowledged that he had opposed the constitutional amendment, but said he was “committed to doing our best to make it work.” He said he hoped his concerns would turn out to be wrong. Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, did not comment on her vote against the amendment, but noted that she was an ordained minister, and that she might “pause for a prayer” if she felt the commission would benefit.
A handful of Virginia residents had indicated in advance of the meeting that they wanted to speak, and they were allotted up to two minutes each. One, Suzanne Chambers, a member of NAACP branch 7045, described how Amherst County, where she lived, had been negatively impacted by gerrymandering, Jeff Jacobs of Herndon expressed concern that his fast-growing area was not represented on the commission. He and Gary Page of Farmville raised questions related to software and citizen input. Another member of the public who had trouble using the Zoom platform was asked to submit her comments in writing instead.
–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-VA, Falls Church
Here are further details about the eight citizens who were appointed to the Virginia Redistricting Commission on January 6, 2021. The applications can be reviewed in their entirety by clicking here. Excerpts from letters of recommendation may come from more than one letter. The regions are as defined by the Division of Legislative Services in categorizing the more than 1,200Read more
Eight citizens were chosen by a panel of retired Virginia Circuit Court judges on January 6 to fill out the membership of the new bipartisan redistricting commission created by the constitutional amendment that voters passed on their November ballots.
In a Zoomed meeting that concluded just before a mob stormed Capitol Hill, the judges selected the members from a list of 60-some names proposed by the General Assembly’s four party leaders. More than 1,200 Virginians submitted applications during the month-long filing window and each leader, as required, put forth at least 16 names. From each of those four lists, the judges worked to develop consensus on two appointments. For a detailed report on the meeting, click here.
The judges repeatedly commented on the “impressive” and brilliant” list of applicants from which they had to choose. They also worked to appoint a slate that met statutory requirements for attention to geographic, gender and racial diversity.
“Gerrymandering” is a method of distorting representative democracy by allowing officials to select their voters rather than voters to elect their officials. When done for purposes of racial discrimination or to ensure the dominance of one political party, gerrymandering runs counter to equal voting rights for all eligible voters. Every ten years, after receiving updated U.S. Census results, the VirginiaRead more