Commission Takes One Step Foward, Two Back

The Virginia Redistricting Commission met for six hours Saturday, but ended the day farther from consensus than when it began. Not only was the Commission unable to agree upon a single plan to redraw state House districts, a single state Senate map morphed into competing GOP and Democratic versions.

Some members expressed optimism about "progress," while some openly wondered if it will be possible for the half Republican, half Democratic to move past a partisan deadlock on issues of fairness and minority representation.

The impasse means that next week citizens who have signed up to speak at public hearings have no specific guide to how the Commission might redraw state legislative districts. Unable to reach a decision, the Commission will direct the public to look at more than a dozen preliminary versions that have been drawn by its consultants.

The 16-member panel has until October 10 to reach a broad consensus on how to redraw the 100 state House and 40 state Senate districts to reflect population changes over the last decade. If they can’t meet that deadline the constitution gives them an additional 14 days to submit plans to the General Assembly, otherwise the maps will be drawn by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Commission approval has to be more than a simple majority. A plan must be endorsed by six of eight citizen members and six of eight legislative members. In addition, three of four House members must agree to the House map and three of four Senators must approve the Senate map. If that were to happen, the maps would go to the General Assembly for an up or down vote.

Following the public hearings, the panel is scheduled to meet next Friday, when it must go from being unable to decide what maps to show the public to a super-majority consensus.

"I’m at a loss as to how to go forward," said Co-Chair Greta Harris. "The thought of next Friday’s meeting turns my stomach.”

On Saturday, the panel again sidestepped fundamental differences in the way the two political parties interpret the federal Voting Rights Act, which Congress passed in the mid-1960s to invalidate state laws that prevented African-Americans from voting and participating in politics.

On race, the biggest sticking point is how to sort Virginia's increasingly diverse population. Democrats favor "opportunity" districts where no single minority has a majority of the voting age population, but the combined non-white and Hispanic population is between 40% and 49%. Democrats say these districts create opportunities for ethnic and racial minorities to elect candidates of their choice.

Republicans note the Voting Rights Act does not require such districts. "Opportunity for what, elect more Democrats?" Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin) said Saturday.

In the last week, the Commission spent more than 20 hours pouring over maps, suggesting changes based on commissioners' personal knowledge of communities and from citizen input. No formal votes have been taken on any changes, in part to avoid sharp partisan disputes. But the lack of formal decisions has left mapmakers confused as to how exactly how they should proceed.

Sen., Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) expressed frustration that the latest version of Senate maps do not incorporate changes he said the Commission had agreed upon.

"This is on us," Abrenio told mapmakers, "We are being unclear as a body.”

At one point, Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) captured both the pessimism and optimism felt by fellow commissioners. First, McQuinn said the partisan stalemate seemed preordained by the way the constitutional amendment drafted by redistricting reform advocates.

McQuinn noted that partisanship was baked into the commission's membership (eight Republicans, eight Democrats) and the commission's decision to retain the services of two sets of lawyers and mapmakers (one GOP one Democratic).

"We expected this outcome," McQuinn said, "and anyone who thought it would be anything else, I own the London Bridge and I’ll sell you a piece."

Turning optimistic, McQuinn talked about much she loves to bake, particularly her grandmother's prized pound cake. She said the recipe produces the same wonderful treat nearly every time. But when it doesn't she gets to work improvising and comes up with something that is a crowd pleaser.

She urged her colleagues to persevere and come up with something that meets the public's expectations. "We’ve got to take this cake and rebake it, or at least remake it.”

Oct. 2, 2021

Updates Home

Updates RSS Feed

Browse updates by month:

December 2021
November 2021
October 2021
September 2021
August 2021
July 2021

(Show All)
June 2021
May 2021
April 2021
March 2021
February 2021
January 2021
December 2020
November 2020
October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008