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Racial Makeup of New Statewide Maps Questioned in Redistricting Commission's First Look

Democratic consultants' proposal for House of Delegates districts.
Virginia Redistricting Commission
Democratic consultants' proposal for House of Delegates districts.

The Virginia Redistricting Commission discussed the first drafts of Virginia’s political districts Monday, and the maps’ relationship with race was a top focus of discussion.

Commissioners had seen regional maps already, but this was the first time the 16-member panel looked at the state as a whole. Two sets of maps for the House of Delegates and the State Senate came from consultants hired to represent Republican and Democratic perspectives.

The maps depart greatly from current political lines, which commissioners voted to ignore for this round of redistricting. Map drawers said both sets are notably more compact than previous districts.

But when looking at demographic information there was a different approach between the two map-makers.

Democrats generally increased the number of districts that were majority-Black. In the senate they plotted four majority-Black districts, while there are currently two. But they created fewer districts where ethnic and racial minorities together made up most residents. Currently the senate as nine of those districts, while the proposal drew seven.

Republicans reduced the number of majority-Black Districts in the senate, from three districts to two, and increased the number in the house from six to eight. They made more minority-majority senate districts, 11 vs the current nine.

Senator Mamie Locke didn’t like either proposal. She saw it as retrogression, a term referring to the dilution of minorities’ current voting power.

“I just have a problem with retrogression,” said Locke. “I heard it in the first set of maps and I heard it in this set of maps…And if I keep hearing about this retrogression and the reduction of the number of minority districts I can't see myself moving forward with these maps.”

The commission is designed to require consensus, requiring a vote from one member of each of the six categories of commissioner: House and Senate Democrats, House and Senate Republicans, and Republican and Democrat members who are not legislators.

This is not the first time questions surrounding race have caused issues for the commission. Last week, when the commission gave map-drawers a few sets of criteria before drawing hte maps discussed Monday, they reached a partisan stalemate over the legal imperatives of the Voting Rights Act.

The commission did not discuss the political balance of the maps.

The Virginia Public Access Project released an analysis this weekend. Both proposals for the State Senate had 18 seats favoring Democrats and 15 going to Republicans. For the House of Delegates, both maps had 45 seats going to Democrats. The Republican map had fewer guarantees for Republicans, but more competitive races.

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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