Despite the early hour, many members of the public answered the call to show up and “speak up” at the August 23 meeting of the Virginia Redistricting Commission. Bolstered by even more comments and emails to the Commission website, their presence was acknowledged by commissioners who spoke strongly of the need to pay attention to “what the people want.”
The 8 a.m. in-person meeting began with an introduction to the map drawers recommended by the Republican and Democratic legal counsels. Mathematician Moon Duchin of Tufts University was introduced as a third possible consultant to both sides. Citizen commissioner James Abrenio asked for and received a commitment from the map drawers to be objective and serve the Commission as a whole, not individual parties.
Presiding Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko then called for a vote on the starting point for map drawing. The map drawers affirmed that starting from scratch would make no difference in meeting the timeline. Citizen commissioner Sean Kumar then pointed to the “overwhelming desire of the public to start from scratch” and moved to “direct the map drawers to start from a clean slate without regard to previous maps.” The motion was seconded by citizen commissioner Brandon Hutchins. Despite a substitute motion from Sen. George Barker to use both existing maps and maps from scratch, the four Democratic citizen members defended Kumar’s motion forcefully and the vote for starting from a clean slate passed on a bipartisan vote 12 – 4.
The Commission Co-chairs Babichenko and Greta Harris then reaffirmed the importance of transparency as the redistricting process moved forward. There would be no behind the scenes partisan discussions with the legal counsels and map drawers. Some “fundamental” disagreement was expressed by legislative members, but the Co-chairs emphasized that because “this is being done as the Committee of the Whole, we have to ensure all commissioners receive all information at the same time.” The protocol will be that questions are asked and answered only through the Co-chairs or in public at a meeting.
There was a brief discussion of the video capability for the commissioners and the public as proposed maps are considered. Meg Lamb of the Division of Legislative Services assured the commissioners “the technical people will be able to do this.”
After 9 members of the public spoke, the Commission went into closed session for an update by legal counsel on a lawsuit filed against the Commission over plans to count prisoners at their last known address instead of the prisons where they’re incarcerated.
MORE COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE COMMISSION MEETING, MOTIONS, AND VOTES FOLLOW.