Citizen Commissioners Win in Mapping Debate
The Virginia Redistricting Commission voted to start their maps from scratch Monday, instead of modifying current political districts, marking a victory for citizen commissioners.
Debate before the 12-4 vote centered around getting such maps through the General Assembly, which will have to approve the maps that the commission draws. Senator Steve Newman, a Republican representing Lynchburg, has often compared getting maps approved by both the legislators on the commission and in the General Assembly to “landing a plane.”
Commissioner James Abrenio, who is not a legislator, argued the easiest maps politically would be those considered fair by the public.
"I am interested in landing this plane,” he said. “I think the best way that we land this plane is we come together as a commission. We come up with fair maps that everybody agrees is fair. We present it to the legislature and the public buys in to the extent that, if they then turn it down, there will be political repercussions from not landing that plane when a commission came together fairly."
Last week commissioners decided to have two sets of teams draw maps, one working with Republican-leaning lawyers, and another working with Democratic-leaning counsel.
Divides among members of the commission, often falling on partisan lines but also between legislators and “citizen” members, are more apparent as the constitutional timeline for completing maps runs out.
The non-legislative members made up the bulk of the winning side of this vote but were joined by three delegates and two senators from both parties.
“The feedback that I've seen from folks that attend our meetings and call in wanting us to start a map from scratch,” said Brandon Hutchins, a Democrat who isn’t in the General Assembly. “Because we have the ability to do that, I don't think that this is a negotiable thing.”
That sentiment was echoed in public comment by Chris DeRosa of the League of Women Voters of Virginia.
“Virginians do not want this to happen,” she claimed. “Thank you to those of you who put aside partisanship today with your vote.”
The commission considers Thursday the beginning of their window to draw new maps. After 45 days they should complete state districts, and after 60 they should have US congressional maps completed.