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Only One Person from SW Virginia Speaks at Region's Redistricting Hearing

A map of Virginia displaying different regions of the state. Yellow, Pink, Blue and Green are among a few colors delineating the regions of the Commonwealth.

Even though observers think Southwest Virginia is likely to lose seats, only one person from Southwest spoke at a virtual hearing for the Virginia Redistricting Commission Thursday.

The lack of attendance raises questions about the commission’s ability to engage with the constituents whose districts it will draw. It's also struggled with hiring a communications firm.

Map drawing is set to begin in less than a month. A census bureau officials has told commissioners that they’d receive legacy census data by August 16th. Commissioners only have 45 days from the receipt of census data to begin drawing maps.

Southwest Virginia’s voice on the Virginia Redistricting Commission, Marvin Gilliam of Bristol, resigned earlier this month. That meant in Thursday’s virtual public hearing on the topic, only one person from the region was heard, Beth Rhinehart, who is the CEO of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce.

Virginia Trost-Thornton was approved by the commission to replace Gilliam. She is a lawyer from Forest, west of Lynchburg. But Trost-Thornton wasn’t present at the meeting either. She was partly chosen because of the proximity to Southwest Virginia. Only one candidate that the commissioners could choose from was from the region.

One other speaker dialed in from New Jersey, and two who signed up to speak weren’t in the online system when the public viewpoints were being heard.

The commission’s in-person public hearings have been more well-attended. About 20 people spoke for almost two hours at one in Northern Virginia. The Southwest Virginia virtual hearing lasted about 15 minutes.

Two more public hearings are scheduled before map drawing begins.  Click here for information and registration.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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