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Redistricting Commission Working with Single Congressional Map, After Competing Drafts Derailed State Plans

Congressional Draft "C1"
Jahd Khalil
/
Radio IQ
A draft of congressional districts handed out by the Redistricting Commission shows a combined effort by partisan map drawers overlaid with a map proposed by a former Republican Member of Congress.

After the process for redrawing new state districts broke down, Virginia’s redistricting commission moved onto drawing congressional districts and are mostly working with a single draft map.

The single map helps address a major pitfall of the process so far. When it came to decide whether to use a Democratic-drawn map or a Republican-drawn map for House of Delegates or State Senate districts, the process derailed. But the compromise may exacerbate debates over political fairness and the tilt of the districts, especially in a few .

Virginia has 11 congressional districts that need to be renewed, and the commission decided to try a different approach this time: having the partisan mappers draw different regions.

Two districts, Three and Four, in the Richmond area and Southside were left unchanged. They are districts with a large minority population and need to conform with the Voting Rights Act.

Democrats drew three districts, Eight, Ten and Eleven, that contain the suburbs of Washington, DC in Northern Virginia.

Republicans drew three districts, Five, Six, and Nine, in Southwest Virginia.

T. Chris Bartolomucci, one of the commission’s Republican lawyers, said each team drew their own version of the remaining districts.

“Both map drawers drew those three districts in a very similar way, not perfectly identical, but very similar,” he said.

The result was a map with only one very competitive district: the second, which is the eastern shore and areas of Hampton Roads, currently represented by Elaine Luria, a Democrat.

The 2nd Congressional District as drawn in this map had an average of 50.1% of votes going to a Democrat in past elections, according to Ken Strasma, the Democrat’s map drawer.

Democrats running in the potential first district, which stretches from Orange and Louisa Counties through Virginia’s peninsulas, got an average of 43% of the vote.

Those running in the seventh district, comprising many northern Virginia counties further from Washington, received an average of 45%.

On the whole, the single map’s political tilt was an even divide between parties, with the exception of the second district, resulting in a map with five districts likely to elect a Republican and five likely to elect a Democrat.

Currently Democrats have seven seats in Virginia’s delegation to the US House of Representatives, and Republicans have four. The last statewide win for a Republican candidate was in 2009.

“It may not award to the two major political parties a number of congressional districts proportional to their share of the vote in statewide elections, '' Bartolomucci said, “But we would point out that the Virginia code does not expressly demand proportional representation.”

Co-chair Greta Harris said she read over 150 public comments on the map.

“Generally I'd say that most of the comments, they don't like the map and that's okay, because then the feedback helps us to have dialogue and to listen to citizen feedback and then hopefully to make adjustments, to try to present the best possible map for consideration,” she said.

Commissioners will need to decide whether this configuration or a variation of it meets their definition of political fairness, and they haven’t decided what that means.

Bartolomucci and Bryan Tyson, another lawyer advising the commission from the conservative side, outlined political fairness in a memo to commissioners.

They wrote that they believe “C1,” as the map commissioners discussed Monday is named, wouldn’t violate Virginia law that prohibits a statewide map that would “unduly favor or disfavor any political party.”

The Democratic lawyers said past election results should be considered.

“It doesn't necessarily mean that you lock in, in a way that a quota might suggest, a certain number of districts,” said Kareem Crayton. “Frankly, from our point of view, saying that you have to have five districts for either party is to some degree a quota because it ignores past performance.”

The lawyers advising the commission noted that Virginia’s State Code on the issue is new enough that a Virginia court has not weighed in on the provisions.

Two issues already emerged with the new map involving both how commissioners, and the public, approach the draft.

Delegate Marcus Simon, a Democrat, raised concerns that the public raised that plans submitted by National Republican Redistricting Trust, which is the National GOP’s redistricting organization, were too close to what the Republican map drawer proposed for his three districts.

The NRRT’s ideas were submitted through former Republican Congressman Tom Davis, Simon said.

Tyson pushed back that there was any sort of coordination, saying that they and John Morgan, the map drawer, only considered citizen submitted maps.

“This is a matter of trying to follow the instructions we were given by the co-chairs looking at the citizen maps that were out there and finding the best solution that would work to get to a map that the commission could work from,” he said.

These districts in question also raised concerns from a number of Lynchburg residents, who have been among the most outspoken during commission hearings.

Chris Faraldi, a Republican on Lynchburg City Council, echoed concerns of other residents that pointed to Lynhcburg’s Ward Two, a ward with many Black residents, as being split.

“Given the great length of time that commission has devoted to ensuring minority communities are not improperly represented, in conjunction with the 180 degree turn from keeping Lynchburg whole, I found this draw for the hill city to be supremely peculiar,” he said. “Please at least have a discussion on this and hopefully find a remedy.”

A deadline for submitting congressional maps to the General Assembly is at the end of this week - if commissioners miss it they will have a small extension but will be unable to consider edits by the general assembly.

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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