Virginia may have seen the last of its Redistricting Commission. After multiple perfect ties split along party lines on votes held over the past months, the Commission reached a consensus on Wednesday to adjourn until the two co-chairs decide to reconvene the commission. The commission’s one remaining scheduled meeting on Monday and a public hearing for Friday are canceled. The co-chairs said they would reconvene the commission if two commissioners, one from each party, were able to jointly propose a way to redistrict Virginia’s congressional maps.
Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko (R) said, “That would give us kind of a better basis, so if Senator Barker finds someone that likes something also on the other side they can bring it to the co-chairs attention, and then we can call a meeting for us to all come and consider it. But I think the issue is that if we say that there is some place for consensus and that we can still keep working, but is that going to happen at another meeting just like this?”
She added, “That might actually have a chance of success, maybe it doesn’t but that would be the only reason to come in. I don’t think we make a lot of movement when we’re sitting at these meetings talking in circles.”
Having already given up on legislative maps, the commission is under deadline to present a congressional map to the General Assembly on Monday. If they do not do that, they have a 14-day extension they will use while commissioners try to develop a compromise offline. Some commissioners worried about the transparency of that process.
Commissioner James Abrenio (D) said, “The concern that I would have about this, and I’m not saying no, but the concern that I would have is, isn’t that kind of the whole point of a commission is to draw maps in public rather than two elected officials go and make an agreement and see if they can sell someone?”
Babichenko said, “This is not the optimal way to do things but it is a path forward. I mean, the other option is to just not move forward. But meeting on Monday and what are we going to talk about that we couldn’t have done today?”
She added, “This would not be the primary or even secondary — this is option eight, maybe, but it’s just a way so that we don’t drag everybody back here when we don’t have anything that has any basis.”
That decision came after the commission took two votes on the proposed partisan makeup of the new maps. Democrats voted for a line-in-the-sand proposal from Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) to create a map with five Democratic seats, four Republican seats, and two competitive seats, but the voted failed in a party-line tie. Republicans voted for Senator Ryan McDougle’s (R-Hanover) proposal to create a map with five Democratic seats, five Republican seats, and one competitive seat. That also failed along party lines.
The commission still has not resolved a fundamental disagreement over what a fair map is. Democrats say the map should recognize a shift in Virginia’s electorate to lean Democratic, and give Democrats an advantage. Republicans dispute the idea that Virginia will remain solidly blue for the next ten years, and want maps that provide the same number of districts to both parties.
Although the debate over fairness is not new, the Wednesday debate and discussion marked a shift as commissioners were finally willing to openly discuss the political balance each party felt they needed.
With the commission unable to agree on the definition of fairness, the Virginia Supreme Court seems likely to end up drawing the maps, where they will face the same question about what Virginia’s new redistricting statute means.
But with Babichenko’s proposal in place, there’s a glimmer of hope that commissioners may be able to develop a compromise. Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax) suggested that a map with five Democratic seats, four Republican seats, one lean Democratic seat, and one Republican seat might work, since Republicans wouldn’t necessarily have to fear a potential seven-Democrat, four-Republican congressional delegation.
“That at least gets it off the 50-50 type of thing, and I think there would be more likelihood that we would end up with a six-five map than otherwise would be the case here. But those are the types of things I think we need to look at as it relates to both the five-five-one and the five-four-two and figure out sort of what are some options we can work with there, and I’d be happy to work with anybody on the Republican side on that issue,” Barker said.
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