Commission Tackles Senate Maps in Marathon Session

 

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:

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Commission Digs into Review of Draft Maps for Entire State

The Virginia Redistricting Commission began its review of two sets of draft maps for state legislative districts September 20, while acknowledging they do not yet reflect data that the commission will have to take into consideration before its work can be completed.

Democratic Co-Chair Greta Harris, who chaired the meeting, declared that it was “a very exciting day for the Virginia Redistricting Commission.” Four new sets of maps had been posted on the commission’s website two days earlier, and the commission’s two map drawers spent the bulk of the commission’s meeting walking members through the reasoning behind the lines they had drawn. The map makers explained that their latest drafts incorporate the first version of the maps they previously drew for Northern Virginia and did not revisit those maps in describing their work at this meeting.

At the outset of his presentation, Ken Strasma, the Democratic map maker, stressed that “in no way is this a final proposal.” Strasma said that he did not look at election data or incumbent addresses, and that at some point that data would need to be considered to assess the maps’ political neutrality. He said that he had focused on keeping jurisdictions together and creating compact districts and where possible, grouping similar communities. Strasma said he had looked at some public comments posted with his first drafts, “and it’s clear that the public is weighing in.” But he noted that the map makers are supposed to take their direction from the commission, after it distills the comments and provides guidance.

Republican map maker John Morgan said he, too, had focused on preserving jurisdictions and compactness. Strasma said that using three different measures of compactness, all the drafts were more compact than the current maps. Using one particular measurement, he said his Democratic Senate map would be judged to be more compact, but the Republican-drawn map would be considered more compact for the House districts. Both map makers described factors, such as major highways, military bases and rural-urban differences that they had considered in describing where they chose to draw the lines. The proposals also reflected some messages that the commission had already heard from the public, such as keeping the city of Lynchburg intact. The map makers’ detailed presentations can be reviewed when the archived video of the commission’s meeting is posted to its website. A lengthy document, showing each of the draft districts, is here.  (The map makers were encouraged to adopt the same protocol for numbering districts, and to choose contrasting colors to make them easier to review.)

At the end of their lengthy presentations, the map makers were urged to review those parts of the state, mostly rural areas, where their maps were similar to see if they could reach a consensus on those districts. The populations of those areas also are largely white, and thus not subject to the  Racially Polarized Voting analysis to which certain other parts of the state must be subjected. Read more

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Map Drawers Post Draft Plans for State Legislative Districts

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s map drawers’ draft proposals for all 140 state legislative districts were unveiled on September 18, in time for the commission to begin reviewing the drafts at its September 20 meeting. 

The meeting, which will be livestreamed, is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. and to include 2 1/2 hours of discussion about the drafts. The maps have been posted on the commission’s website in a format designed to encourage specific public comments. (The latest drafts are designated as Versions 100, 101, 102 and 103, with a version for each chamber prepared by each of its partisan map drawers.)  The current maps have also been posted, so that the public can also comment on what they do and don’t like about the current districts. 

The commission originally planned to roll out maps on a region-by-region basis, but after discussing drafts for Northern Virginia, its co-chairs decided to review proposals for the whole state. In addition to its current mechanisms for public comment, the commission plans to hold virtual hearings, focused on different parts of the state, once its initial work is done. 

The commission has additional time in which to prepare the new congressional district maps, and has not yet reviewed any drafts of those. 

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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Co-Chairs Shift Agenda to Give Map Makers Direction on Statewide Maps

In a surprising development, the co-chairs of the Virginia Redistricting Commission announced September 11 that they were changing their planned agenda for the commission’s September 13 meeting and to give the commission’s bi-partisan map makers more guidance to complete their task. The co-chairs said that the map makers have been told to present proposed maps for all 100 House of Delegate districts and the 40 Senate districts by the commission’s September 20 meeting. 

The commission had just considered draft maps for about one-third of the state’s districts, those located in Northern Virginia, and had planned to review drafts for the eastern part of the state and Tidewater on September 13. But in a statement the co-chairs issued two days later, they said, “Some progress on these statewide maps can be made by following statutory criteria, and our current guidance, but the map drawers need more specifics in order to complete the task.” 

“Given that our deadline is a little over four weeks away, the time for those details is now.” The statement said that the commission would be “considering and discussing the criteria and guidance that need further detail and will take votes on the specific direction and guidance to give the map drawers.” 

The co-chairs said that at the commission’s September 15 meeting, it would be “reviewing the public comment we have received and how it will inform any additional directions for the map drawers. So many of you have submitted comment through email or written letter, at a public meeting or hearing, or through the Commission’s interactive mapping and comment tool on the website, and we encourage you to continue to do so.” At the last meeting, Co-Chair Greta Harris said that within a week, the commission’s newly hired communications and outreach consultants were expected to have reviewed and organized comments to date. So far, the map drawers have not considered public comments, awaiting direction from the commission about what arguments should be considered. 

The co-chairs noted that because no new maps will be presented this week, they have added maps of the current districts to the commission’s new interactive tool so that the public can review existing maps and add comments. The co-chairs asked, “Where are districts, or parts of districts, that you like? Where are districts, or parts of districts, that you do not like? It is so helpful to hear not only what doesn’t work but what does.” The co-chairs said that comments submitted would be part of the discussion on September 15. After that, the co-chairs said, the map makers would present statewide maps on September 20, and the commission would spend “the next two weeks digging into those maps and building a single statewide map for the two sets of districts.” 

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Commission Continues Review of Draft Maps for Northern Virginia

The Virginia Redistricting Commission September 9 resumed its review of draft legislative maps from a larger area of Northern Virginia, but not without some sharp exchanges between some commission members about the treatment of incumbents.

At its next meeting at 1 p.m. on September 13, the commission’s two professional map drawers will put forward proposals for  the Tidewater and Eastern Shore. Map drawers are working their way around the state, adding a contiguous region each time. The commission plans to review a new region at the start of each week, with further discussion at a second meeting later in the week. Republican Co-Chair Mackenzie Babichenko, who ran this meeting, stressed that the commission shares draft maps with the public as soon as it can after it receives them. She urged the public to comment on what they don’t like, as well as what they do like about the proposals, and stressed that at this point, “We are not setting anything in stone.”

At more than one point in the meeting, Babichenko praised the drafts that the commission had received. “From my personal standpoint,” she said,  “everything that has been submitted looks better than what we have now.” She urged the public to “bear with us,” and said that “everyone is doing everything as fast as humanly possible.” She added that the commission was trying to be “as transparent as possible,” but that means “a less efficient process than if we were in a back room making decisions.”

Much of the meeting was spent reviewing expanded maps of Northern Virginia, one prepared by a Republican-affiliated team and the other affiliated with the Democrats. The commission’s new tool for reviewing draft maps can be reviewed here. The most recent updates are labeled “2,” with a proposal drawn by each of the professionals, one for the House of Delegates (HOD) and the other for the Senate (S). Comments on the maps can be left directly where they are viewed. The latest maps incorporate Loudoun and Clarke County to the west, and districts as far south as Stafford County, Fredericksburg and parts of Spotsylvania County. The two professionals did not address exactly the same counties, because they left open jurisdictions that they would need to combine with others to achieve the right population number. It was noted, however, that there were some districts for which their maps were very similar.

So far, the map-makers have not reviewed any of the public comments that have been submitted to the commission over its eight months of work. The commission’s Democratic co-chair, Greta Harris, said that that a week from now, its newly hired communications consultants are expected to finish their work of sifting through and organizing “minimally about a thousand comments.” The comments will be organized by region, and Harris said that if the commission receives a “high percentage” of comments for a particular concern, such as “keep Fredericksburg whole,” the commission would prioritize those concerns and give guidance to the map makers.

But Richard Harrell, a Republican citizen member from South Boston, expressed concern that the commission would  pay attention to the number and “velocity” of comments, a term Harris used. He said he believed he was supposed to use his “best judgment,” and opposed the idea that he was “supposed to follow a few people who are more energized than others.”

As the maps were discussed, arguments broke out over the use of incumbent addresses. In August, the commission formally adopted the criteria the map drawers were to use, specifying that political data “may” be reviewed “to ensure compliance” with its political neutrality provision and incumbent addresses “may” be considered as part of the drafting process. The Virginia Public Access Project and legislators themselves had reviewed the first round of draft maps and pointed out where incumbents had been placed in the same district. This is a particular issue in Northern Virginia, where incumbents live closer to each other because of population density. Commission members Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) and Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) would have to run against other incumbents under at least one of the proposals.

Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville) asserted, “I think we should make sure our map makers are not including” incumbent addresses. The discussion grew more heated when it was learned that the team of Democratic map makers  had used information from Redistricting Data Hub, a non-partisan source of redistricting information, to understand where legislators lived. Ken Strasma, the Democratic map maker, said the organization makes the information available to the public, but requires users to register out of safety concerns. John Morgan, the Republican map maker, said he had not used such data.

Barker said the issue was not “insignificant,” because the information had been used “maliciously” in the past, when the party in power pitted incumbents against each other. He contended that when the Democrats drew the 2011 Senate boundaries, they made a point of not putting two senators in the same district, except when districts were combined because of lost population.

Democratic citizen member Sean Kumar responded, “Part of the reason that was happening in the past was because of gerrymandering.”

Babichenko achieved a consensus agreement that the commission might eventually check incumbent addresses, but not at this stage. Ken Strasma, the lead Democratic map maker, said, he was “agnostic” about incumbent addresses, and would follow that guidance. 

The professional map makers walked through their proposals, describing, in most cases, how they had tried not to break up jurisdictions, tried to follow traffic corridors, and tried to group communities that were similar in nature, such as suburban or rural. The Democratic map makers described some districts where certain minority groups were clustered. Because white residents of Northern Virginia tend to vote the same way minorities do, the area is not considered racially polarized, for voting rights purposes. In response to a question from Simon, the Democratic team said they had looked for opportunities to give such minorities a voice, even if they were not required to. Simon noted that information would be useful when having conversations about preserving “communities of interest,” a new criteria.

The map makers said they had also adhered to the commission’s instructions not to have a population deviation of plus or minus two percentage points; the law, however, is not that restrictive.

After the professionals’ maps were discussed, Barker presented an alternative for three Senate districts, Districts 6, 7 and 3. The draft maps had put the precinct where Barker lives into the district of fellow Democratic Sen. Chap Peterson. (Peterson currently represents 39 precincts in the proposed district, while Barker represents only two.) Barker proposed shifting two precincts among each of the three Senate districts he described to keep the incumbents separate.

Barker said that after the discussion at the previous meeting, he had talked with Amigo Wade, head of the Division of Legislative Services, about how he might prepare his own proposal, since individual commission members are not permitted to consult with the map makers. A DLS staff member was dispatched to work with Barker on his idea. Barker then detailed to the commission the reasons why he felt his approach made sense.

Kumar then asked, “I’m not sure why we are sharing this. It seems like this is a statement of self-interest. It seems like there should be a limit on speeches. If someone or someone else’s colleague doesn’t like it, we are catering” to them. “I think it’s a bad precedent to have a member submitting his own maps,” when the commission represents “8 million Virginians.”

Babichenko replied that Barker “is a citizen” who was permitted to put his ideas into a redistricting shape file and submit it, just as others could. John Morgan, the Republican map maker, noted that Barker had made some suggestions to an existing plan, and that that was helpful; he “provided a solution and did so in writing.”

Harris commented that every commission member was free to do that. “We are from different parts of the Commonwealth, we have different knowledge.” DLS staff members, she said, were prepared to help them. Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) noted that the commission had had good input from Northern Virginia and urged the staff to reach out to other parts of the state so that their residents would know when their maps were being discussed. Noting that no members of the public were in Richmond to make comments in person at that meeting, Simon and Harris urged the DLS staff to review the technical issues to see if a way could be found for members of the public to provide virtual comments when meetings were livestreamed.

At the end of the three-hour meeting, which Babichenko acknowledged was “intense,” McQuinn thanked the two co-chairs for their leadership. “You are doing a good job of herding cats,” she said, and praised the way they were working together. Her comments were greeted with applause.

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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Positions and Studies

The League of Women Voters advocates on matters for which it has statements of Position. “Position” is determined by consensus of the members after thoughtful research and study. “Study” ordinarily includes two years of research and analysis by a dedicated committee. Here are the League’s Current Positions • League of Women Voters of Virginia (LWV-VA) positions   • League of

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Commission Receives First Set of Draft Maps for Northern Virginia

All 16 members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission got their first look at draft redistricting maps for Northern Virginia  in a virtual meeting September 2. The commission met for three hours, but could take no votes because members were not meeting face-to-face. 

The Commission has also now published a new full revised schedule of its future meetings and public hearings.  The Commission plans to meet twice a week in September and October, as it continues its review of draft maps of different regions.  Eight public hearings on the proposed maps will be held in early October, all virtually, with one additional hearing scheduled for October 22 before maps are sent to the General Assembly for approval.  

The first sets of draft maps were presented by map drawers  John Morgan (hired by the Republican legal team) and Ken Strasma (hired by the Democratic legal team). With advice from counsel, the co-chairs asked the map drawers to start in Northern Virginia because of the huge population there, and the fact that there are no  issues related to Racial Polarized Voting (RPV) in that region.  Morgan and Strasma each drafted a set of  maps for the House of Delegates and State Senate districts in Northern Virginia – specifically, Fairfax and Arlington Counties and the cities of Falls Church and Alexandria, plus a small part of Loudoun County.   With limited time to draft these maps, Strasma and Morgan each drew two sets of maps. The maps can be reviewed in the middle of this document, from pages 37-112.  

During the short discussion,  Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) commented that he favored the map drawn by Morgan, the Republican-appointed map drawer,  apologized for previous critical comments, and said the map was “perfect.”  Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) commented that he lives in the last house on the border of the district he represents, and may have been drawn out of “his district.” He said, “We need to give opportunities for people to get reelected.”  He indicated that a number of senators are considering retiring rather than running in new districts.

The map drawers indicated they plan to work together to produce one set of draft maps for each region in the future, rather than two sets.  Strasma said they preferred to work directionally across the state, rather than hop-scotching around, because each decision impacts adjacent counties, cities, and regions.  

Harris announced that plans call for two sets of regional maps to be prepared and released each Monday, with discussion by the Commission later that week.

Racial Polarized Voting (RPV) Analysis.  The Commission also heard a report on Racial Polarized Voting (RPV) prepared by Maxwell Palmer of Boston University and Benjamin Schneer of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School.  Palmer explained that RPV occurs in localities where the white voters, as a bloc, vote differently from African American or other minority voters.  Using data from five statewide elections in 2016-2018, Palmer and Schneer determined that statewide, a very high percentage of minority voters (Black, Asian, Hispanic) voted for Democratic candidates – over 90 percent of Asian and Black voters, and over 75 percent of Hispanic voters.  In the same five elections, fewer than 50 percent of white voters supported the Democratic candidates (a range of 36  percent to 44 percent).  “This is evidence of racially polarized voting.”  Palmer explained that RPV may occur without discriminatory intent.

Palmer then summarized their findings by looking at seven of the eight regions of the state, as defined by the  Weldon-Cooper Public Policy Center.  (They explained that they did not analyze the Southwest region because it has so few minority voters.)  All seven regions were  “uniformly blue, indicating that on average more than 70 percent of Minority voters supported the Democratic candidate. This is evidence that Minority voters in every region have clear candidates of choice, and are cohesive in supporting these candidates.”   When analyzing white voters in the seven regions, there were significant variations.  There was evidence of “very low levels of support for Democratic candidates in the Eastern and Southside regions, low levels of support in the Valley, West Central, and Hampton Roads regions, 40-50 percent support in the Central region, and 50-60 percent  support in Northern Virginia. This indicates that voters are not polarized in Northern Virginia, and only a small majority of White voters support Republican candidates in the Central region.”

Analysis continued by looking at the 11 Congressional districts.  In Districts  8 and 11 in Northern Virginia, a majority of white voters supported the Democratic candidates; thus there is no evidence that RPV exists in those two districts.  On the other hand, only 30-40 percent of white voters supported the Democratic candidates in Districts 1, 5, 6 and 7.  In Districts  2, 3, 4 and 10, “White voters are close to [evenly]  split; they support Democratic candidates with 40-50 percent of the vote.” 

In summary, looking at Congressional Districts 3, 4, 8, 10 and 11, where minorities comprise at least 40 percent of the voting population,  Palmer and Schneer found that in Districts 3, 4 and 11, there is evidence of  “somewhat racially polarized voting”.   

The  RPV report can be reviewed here.  

Report from the Communications Team.  The Commission also heard from the Communications team of  Esmel Meeks and Mindy Carlin of  Access Point Public Affairs.  Together they explained their plans to help the Commission organize public input and to conduct more extensive outreach to the public via social media, print media and email distribution.  They will be using a data management platform called Jambo, which will be available to members of the Commission, but will not be “public-facing”.  Reports can be generated that can be shared with the public.  The plan is to upload and sort the comments that have already been submitted into Jambo.  New comments will be submitted via a new portal.  Such submissions will have details such as the name of the commenters and where they live,  and their stakeholder type (e.g., individual, business, organization,or other).  Comments will be categorized according to subject and region. 

Meeks and Carlin said they will be improving the functionality of the commission’s website, and adding more explanatory material. They also hope to reach out to other state commissions, the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties, plus organizations such as the Chambers of Commerce and the Urban League and NAACP.  Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) suggested working with faith organizations, day-care centers, and HBCUs Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Co-chair Harris asked Commission members to suggest additional names and organizations to the consultants if they had ideas. 

 

–Chris DeRosa, LWV-Arlington

 

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Prisoners should be counted in their home communities

League of Women Voters of Virginia, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization jointly file amicus brief to prohibit prison gerrymandering.

Just as gerrymandering takes away power from voters, prison-gerrymandering has the same effect on the home communities of incarcerated individuals. Last summer, on July 1, 2020, the anti-prison gerrymandering law went into effect that required inmates be counted at their last home address rather than where they are currently incarcerated. League of Women Voters of Virginia, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization jointly filed an amicus brief to support the bipartisan Virginia Redistricting Commission as it follows the law when counting prison populations.

“The anti-prison gerrymandering law should be used by the redistricting commission and does not violate Virginia’s constitution,” said Deb Wake, President of the LWV of Virginia. “Incarcerated people should be counted at their last home address, not in the communities where they are incarcerated. Otherwise, the political power of their communities is limited.” 

Black Virginians make up less than 21 percent of Virginia’s population but comprise 56 percent of Virginia’s incarcerated population. By counting inmates at their last home address, their numbers are used for accurate  representation and resource allocation. 

“The mass incarceration of Black and Brown Virginians takes away the voting power of those communities and adds voting power to mostly white, rural communities,” said Vishal Agraharkar, senior staff attorney at ACLU of Virginia. “We must end prison gerrymandering and count incarcerated people in their home districts to ensure the promise of ‘one person, one vote.’

“Incarcerated people should be counted where they have voting power,” said 

Virginia Kase Solomón, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the US. “Black and brown individuals are disproportionately represented in our prisons — not counting them in their communities dilutes the overall voting power of those incarcerated in a facility outside of their home state. Virginia’s redistricting commission must be allowed to exercise the anti-prison gerrymandering law when drawing Virginia’s maps.” 
 
“The National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization (NBNRO) appreciates the Virginia ACLU taking the lead and the Virginia League of Woman Voters for joining in this Amicus action to enforce the Virginia Statue restricting prison gerrymandering in the Commonwealth, a practice that has had race-based impacts on many communities in Virginia,” said Phil Thompson, Executive Director of NBNRO. “The rights of the incarcerated to be counted within their home communities should not be a deprivation of their incarceration.”
 
Contact Denise Harrington, Advocacy Director
 
 

 

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Decisions on Commission Structure and Operation: Part II

The early morning meeting of the Virginia Redistricting Commission on Tuesday, August 17 was to make decisions and take votes on aspects of the Commission structure and operations.  One noncontroversial vote had been taken the previous afternoon to establish a “start date” for the Commission’s work as August 26. The majority of the remaining decisions were voted on in a lengthy three-hour session presided over by Co-chair Greta Harris. 

Seven of the day’s motions related to the “Proposed Redistricting Guidelines and Criteria.” The first was to accept a legal counsel recommendation for rewording of the first sentence to “Plans drawn for the Commission must comply with the following guidelines and criteria in order of the priority listed below.” This motion passed 13 – 1 with citizen commissioner Sean Kumar abstaining.  (Due to a work commitment, Kumar was available for only a portion of the meeting and votes.)

The second motion established the population deviation as “Each legislative district should be drawn to be as equal as practicable with total population variances minimized with a target of plus or minus 2% while considering other principles listed below.”  This motion was approved unanimously, 16 – 0.

3.c.i.b. in the guidance document reads “The integrity and priority of existing political subdivisions should be preserved to the extent possible by avoiding unnecessary divisions of those subdivisions.” Several commissioners spoke about hearing Virginians call for putting their communities back together. There was some opposition, but the motion to keep this provision passed 12 – 4.

The section on “Political Neutrality 4.B” was more controversial.  It read “Commission Guidance:  Maps shall not favor or disfavor any political party.  [The Commission may review political data after the drafting of a plan is complete to ensure compliance with this political neutrality provision and will/will not consider incumbent addresses as part of the drafting process.]”  A substitute motion that allows incumbent addresses to be considered as part of the drafting process was carried on a vote of 9 – 6.  Another substitute motion by Del. Simon to insert “only” in front of “after the drafting of a plan is complete,” failed 4-11.  Sen. Barker’s motion to strike “after the drafting of a plan is complete carried
11 – 4.  This would allow for consideration of political data in addition to incumbent addresses.

Consideration of the “Proposed Redistricting Guidelines and Criteria” concluded with a motion to accept the entire document as amended.  This motion carried 9 – 5 with Kumar abstaining.

Del. Simon then moved to hire the University of Richmond’s Spatial Analysis Lab as the single map drawer. Despite a lengthy debate, that motion failed on a tie vote 8 – 8.  As a result, Co-chair Harris directed legal counsel to agree on a process of how to move forward with the two partisan map drawers they had previously identified.

The final vote of the day was also controversial.  This was on a motion to accept the proposed subcommittee structure which is balanced with eight commissioners each evenly divided between political parties, House and Senate, and citizens and legislators.  One subcommittee would work on the House map and another on the Senate map.  The motion failed 7 – 8 and all commissioners will now work together on the maps.

Because the time was approaching 11 a.m. and there were concerns about losing a quorum, the question about where to start the maps was put on the agenda for Monday, August 23. The agenda for that date will also include working together to craft a work plan and schedule.

Public Comment –

Liz White of OneVirginia2021: “Based on decisions today, I would encourage that if you hire two map drawers they work in concert on a single set of maps, rather than two sets of maps to be ‘mooshed’ together. I would encourage you to continue to move along a path where all are involved in the map drawing process.  Thank you for your work and your decisions.”

Phil Thompson of the National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization (NBNRO):
“I wasn’t going to speak until the last bit.  You set yourselves up when you hired two sets of counsel.  You put yourselves in this mess!  I took a lot of heat in supporting the amendment. Now there are two different map drawers.  Hurry up so SCoVA can hire their map drawers.  Lots of time and money to be spent.  Sad for the people of Virginia!”

MORE COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE COMMISSION MEETING, MOTIONS, AND VOTES FOLLOW

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Decisions on Commission Structure and Operation: Part I

The full Virginia Redistricting Commission met Monday afternoon, August 16 for the first of two meetings to make decisions on the structure and operation of the Commission.  Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko presided over a packed agenda with debate on critical decisions which would be voted on early Tuesday morning after time overnight to consider the options.  

At the beginning, an exception for one vote was allowed by the Co-chairs when the commissioners appeared to reach consensus on setting the “start date” for the Commission’s work as August 26.  The timeline didn’t allow for further votes, however, as what followed was lengthy discussion of revisions to the “Proposed Redistricting Guidelines and Criteria.” This document was first offered by legal counsel at the August 3 meeting.  Questions were raised about segments relating to “Political Neutrality” and use of incumbent addresses; “Population Equality” including percent deviation; and keeping cities and counties intact under “Communities of Interest.”  Commissioners also considered the issue of hiring map drawers, whether to start with current or blank maps, and how to organize their work through subcommittees.

As the first item on the agenda, citizen commissioner James Abrenio, co-chair of the Public Engagement Subcommittee announced that negotiations had been finalized for Communication and Outreach consultants.   Meeks Consulting is a Virginia Beach public relations and outreach firm owned by Esmel Meeks.  Access Point, a communications and public relations firm, is also based in Virginia Beach and is owned by Michael and Mindy Carlin.  Both came online to greet the Commission and Meeks said his company’s goal overall is to maximize attendance at upcoming meetings and leverage digital and print media to encourage engagement.  Mindy Carlin indicated her areas of focus are to provide data management to help format and organize public comments in a way that can be helpful to Commissioners.  She confirmed that the data platform has the capacity to accept maps from the public who may want to draft their own maps and they will be organizing both public comments that have been received to date and in the future. They will also be providing support for live streaming with opportunities for messaging and ensuring language requirements are met.

Senator George Barker (D – Alexandria) then initiated a discussion of the Commission’s timeline for submission of redistricting maps to the General Assembly.  According to the Constitutional Amendment, the “receipt date” would establish the 45 days for the Commission to submit House and Senate maps and 60 days to submit Congressional maps.  A table prepared by the Division of Legislative Services staff laid out three scenarios for what dates could be considered as the “Date of Census Data Receipt” – August 12 (date of release of data in ”legacy format” from the Census Bureau); or August 26 (date the Commission expects the data to be usable for map drawing after adjustment for the prison population and technical adjustments); or September 30 (date of final release of data from the Census Bureau.)  If August 12, House and Senate maps would be due to the General Assembly by September 26; if August 26, the deadline would be October 10; and if September 30 (the date for full release of Census data), the maps would be due by November 14.

The commissioners questioned whether it would be legally acceptable to consider the date of “receipt of Census data” as when usable data is actually available?  If the “receipt date” could be determined to be August 26, all the data could be formatted including the adjustments for the prison population.  It would also be possible to block out dates going forward with the goal of meeting the body of work before the November election.  “Scheduling dates to block off time for fair maps is challenging.”

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