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Issues that Derailed State Redistricting Remain as Commission Looks to Congress

Democratic consultants' proposal for House of Delegates districts.
Virginia Redistricting Commission
An early proposal from the Democratic consultants' for House of Delegates districts. Partisan map drawers and attorneys have created a parallel redistricting process that needs to be resolved by the evenly-split commission.

After three members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission walked out of a tense meeting last week, a parallel partisan map drawing process and fundamental disagreements regarding race and redistricting remain as the commission starts work on congressional maps.

The commission said in a Facebook post it will start work on redrawing Virginia’s 11 Congressional districts during its meeting Monday.

Partisan deadlock has defined the commission, which has more or less just agreed on flexible criteria.

Two teams, one Republican, one Democrat, have used that criteria to draw maps in parallel, resulting in different drafts informed by different legal advice.

Friday it was time to pick one map or the other if they wanted to hit a deadline for submitting maps to the General Assembly for approval.

Republicans rejected a Democratic offer to use one map from each side: Republicans for the House, Democrats for the Senate. Afterwards, Senator Mamie Locke, a Democrat, said this result was because of the two teams.

“We didn't have to end up with two different sets of map drawers and two different sets of attorneys,” Locke said. “That has gotten us right where we are.”

Shortly after Locke’s comments, when the commission returned from recess, a commission co-chair said it looked as though Republicans weren’t negotiating in good faith.

“If I can't believe the people I am supposed to work with are true and sincere, regrettably I am done,” Greta Harris said. “Thank you very much for the opportunity to serve, but I will remove myself from the commission at this point.”

She and two other citizen commissioners, James Abrenio and Brandon Hutchins, also Democrats, walked out. Harris said in an email that neither she nor the other commissioners resigned.

Key disagreements have been over how maps will handle Virginia’s increasingly diverse population. Democrats, and most of all the citizen commissioners, want districts grouping those communities together. Those disagreements remain, and so does the parallel map-drawing process.

Commissioners have roughly two weeks until they should submit Congressional maps, and will get a short extension if they don’t meet that deadline, per a flowchart on the commission’s website.

If the commission fails to submit maps, or the legislature doesn’t approve them, the Supreme Court of Virginia will take over redistricting.

Senator Steve Newman said in a statement that citizen Democrats wanted to derail the commission, referencing an August 3rd meeting.

James Abrenio, one of the commissioners who walked out spoke in response to Newman's comments about political viability of the maps at that meeting.

"I'm trying to figure out from a legal perspective: voting rights act, constitutionality, are we doing it right technically... to meet the constitutional requirements," he said. "Whether or not politically we can get it through and it fails for that reason, if that's the reason it fails because of politics, it is what it is."

Newman, a Senate Republican had resigned from the commission because he said it was taking too much time and competed with professional obligations.

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

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