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 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?”
The Virginia Redistricting Commission has moved on to full consideration of the congressional map without making any decisions about the General Assembly maps and using a two-week extension period. In advance of a meeting Thursday, the co-chairs had asked the Republican map-drawing team to draft a proposal for the Republican-voting southwest region of Virginia, and the Democratic team to draw a proposal for Democratic-voting northern Virginia, while both map drawers roughly followed the existing court-drawn districts three and four. Those districts have the most significant minority voter populations, which require extra protection by law.
Debate over the preliminary proposals again focused how to protect minority voters, but by the end of the meeting, there seemed to be a shaky consensus to leave district three and four mostly intact, with support from both Democratic and Republican legal teams. The commission returned to the question of what fair maps are: do they reflect Virginia’s blue-leaning voter base, or do they give an even split to each party? How important is compactness versus regional identity?
The Virginia Redistricting Commission hasn’t made a formal decision, but it seems to be moving on after missing a Sunday deadline to complete General Assembly maps. In a virtual meeting Monday, commissioners couldn’t take any votes, but they heard preliminary presentations from the partisan legal teams about redistricting Virginia’s congressional maps. When Co-Chair Mackenzie Babichenko (R) tried to wrap up the meeting with a summary of action items for a meeting later this week, Delegate Les Adams (R-Chatham) questioned Co-Chair Greta Harris (D) status on the commission, launching what Babichencko called an “airing of grievances” from frustrated commissioners.
On Friday, Harris and two other citizen members broke quorum, ending a fraught meeting. At the time, she said, “At this point I don’t feel as though all members on the commission are sincere in their willingness to compromise and to create fair maps for the Commonwealth of Virginia. And so at that point, if I can’t believe that the people I’m supposed to work with are true and sincere, regrettably, I am done. So thank you very much for the opportunity to serve, but I will remove myself from the commission at this point.”
The Virginia Redistricting Commission collapsed Friday afternoon while facing a Sunday deadline to complete final maps to present to the General Assembly. The commission failed to break through partisan deadlocks on which drafts to use as a starting point, the latest in weeks of perfect party-line splits in the habitually deadlocked commission. In despair, three citizen members walked out of the meeting breaking quorum and leaving questions about the future of the commission.
The Virginia Redistricting Commission spent its Friday meeting discussing drafts of House maps, but got bogged down during consideration of greater Hampton Roads and Richmond-area maps. Although there is general agreement over much of the geographic areas considered, proposals from partisan map drawers differ in more populated areas, leaving the commission deadlocked and unable to move forward. While debating the Richmond-area maps, commissioners broke out into a frustrated discussion of the process. On Saturday, the commission is scheduled for a final meeting before presenting the proposed House and Senate maps for public consideration — the commission must finalize its House maps, including discussion of Northern Virginia, and finalize its Senate maps in that meeting.
“I don’t know if I want to come back tomorrow, or stay the night. If we’re not going to get anywhere, I just don’t see — and I understand the desire to keep tweaking and working,” Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) said. “And what it seems to have devolved to is we’ve got Republican map makers and lawyers trying to minimize the number of Democratic districts they have to draw, and maximize the number of Republican districts they have to draw. and I could say the same thing here on both sides. I think we kind of have to pick.”
The Virginia Redistricting Commission voted Monday to start with blank, new maps. Some legislators proposed an alternate proposal to draw two sets of maps, one based off current maps, and one from a blank slate, but that motion was defeated.
Citizen Commissioner Sean Kumar (D) introduced the initial motion for blank maps, noting that in public comment, most of the public has expressed a desire for new maps, and that both parties have an interest in protecting the incumbents.
Barker introduced the substitute plan to draw the two sets of maps, and Senator Steve Newman (R-Bedford) seconded it.
RICHMOND, Virginia – The Virginia Redistricting Commission will hire separate Republican and Democratic map-drawing teams after voting against a non-partisan team proposed by the Democratic legal counsel. In the Tuesday meeting, the commission also worked on a guidance document and agreed to allow the use of historical political data and incumbents’ addresses during the map drawing process.
Democratic citizen members of the commission lamented the loss of a more non-partisan perspective.
“The spirit of what we were trying to do as a commission as we’ve heard from citizens over and over again, is not quite unfolding the way maybe many citizens had hoped, but we will do the best we can within the constraints of what we’re voting on as a commission,” Co-Chair Greta Harris (D) said.
The Virginia Redistricting Commission is facing key decisions about how it will create legislative maps. The U.S. Census Bureau is expected to publish 2020 Census data later this month. When the commission receives the data on August 16, that will launch a 45-day deadline for the commission to create the maps for House of Delegates and Senate. But the commission is still debating key questions about how to draw the maps: should subcommittees be used, who should be on them, and should the maps be based on the current maps.