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Incumbency Returns to Redistricting Debate, Again

A proposed map for the House of Delegates displayed during the September 29, 2021 meeting of the Virginia Redistricting Commission.
Jahd Khalil
A proposed map for the House of Delegates displayed during the September 29, 2021 meeting of the Virginia Redistricting Commission.

Virginia’s Redistricting Commission continues to make compromises on its own criteria as an October 10th deadline quickly approaches. Incumbency, a familiar and unpopular issue, is resurfacing.

The bi-parstian redistricting commission took a look at new draft maps for the House of Delegates in a meeting Wednesday morning. Map drawers showed commissioners their work in Southwest Virginia, and part of that was making sure incumbents wouldn’t have to run against each other.

Commissioner Sean Kumar was concerned.

“The pendulum seems to have swung farther than we wanted in favor of unpairing incumbents,” said Kumar, a Democrat who is not in the General Assembly.

Non-legislator Democrats like him were advocates of not protecting incumbents early in the process. They were at odds with Republican non-legislators and legislators of both parties on the commission.

Greta Harris, another non-legislator Democrat and one of the co-chairs of the commission, was also concerned with incumbency gaining prevalence in redistricting criteria.

“The incumbent position, maybe to the chagrin of some of my colleagues on the commission, is not as high a priority as trying to keep communities whole and compact and adjacent to one another,” she said, referring to other criteria for maps that the commission has adopted.

If the commission submits a map that endangers too many incumbents, the General Assembly might not pass the maps, or legislators on the commission might also vote against referring them to the legislature.

Senator Ryan McDougle, a Republican, said that if commissioners adopted a rationale for protecting some incumbents but not others they’d need to be consistent in areas where more Democrats live, too

“I want us to remember that when we go to Northern Virginia and when we get to Hampton roads... where people live right on top of each other,” McDougle said.

Final house maps are expected by the end of this week. Next week is a string of virtual public hearings.

Public feedback has greatly influenced maps, with map drawers changing lines in direct response to public comment and feedback.

A list of the public hearings can be found on the commission's website.

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.