The Virginia Redistricting Commission Turned Out to be a Giant Hot Mess

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Posted: Oct 10, 2021 1:00 PM
The Virginia Redistricting Commission Turned Out to be a Giant Hot Mess

Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

Update:

According to reporting from Mel Leonor with Richmond Times-Dispatch on Sunday, the Virginia Redistricting Commission is moving on from the state maps to the congressional maps. 

Leonor wrote:

The Virginia Redistricting Commission will not finish its work on the state’s legislative maps, and will instead move on to drawing maps for the state’s congressional districts.

In an update issued Sunday afternoon, commission staff said the body will convene virtually Monday at 9 a.m. and hear guidance from counsel about next steps for a new map of the state’s 11 U.S. House district.

Original Post:

On the ballot for Virginia in 2020 was a question of how to go about redistricting. Known as the Virginia Redistricting Commission Amendment, it transferred authority from the state legislators to a redistricting commission made up of citizens as well as state legislators. While it overwhelmingly passed 65.69 percent to 34.31 percent, it's turned out to be such an epic fail it's hard to imagine there isn't some buyer's remorse involved from all who voted for it. 

The commission was supposed to involve input from Democrats and Republicans working together to merge maps to send to the General Assembly. On Friday, though, Democrats walked out after claiming Republicans weren't accepting their compromises, and now it has to go to the Supreme Court of Virginia in all likelihood, according to Graham Moomaw with Virginia Mercury. 

Then again, it hasn't gone very well from the start. 

As Moomaw began his piece:

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s first-ever attempt to draw fair political maps collapsed in spectacular fashion Friday, when frustrated Democrats walked out of a meeting after Republicans rebuffed their suggestions for reaching a compromise.

The commission, which has been holding regular meetings for more than a month, never came close to reaching an agreement on final General Assembly maps. Partisanship dominated the process from the start, with the commission hiring two teams of overtly partisan consultants and repeatedly failing to agree on how to merge two sets of maps.

The process now appears headed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, unless the three Democratic walkouts change their minds and agree to meet again. But that appears unlikely based on how Friday’s meeting ended. 

Democratic co-chair Greta Harris and Democratic citizens James Abrenio and Brandon Hutchins were the ones who left the room. Republicans wanted to keep working. 

The disagreement appears to be over what maps to even just begin looking over to start with. Moomaw mentions legitimate concerns raised by Republican members:

The gridlock reached a breaking point as the commission failed to agree on which maps to use as a starting point for its final push for a deal. The commission’s eight Democrats voted to begin with a Republican-drawn House of Delegates map and Democratic-drawn Senate map. Republicans voted against that offer and suggested keeping both a GOP and Democratic Senate map alive — a proposal all eight Democrats voted down. 

...

Republicans said they objected to working with the Democratic-drawn Senate proposal because it was only unveiled Friday morning, after a week’s worth of public hearings where citizens were unable to see it.

“Last I checked there were no public comments on that map,” said Republican commissioner Jose Feliciano.

Though it was clear the commission was only voting on which maps to use as a starting point, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, said he wanted to compare and contrast two Senate proposals instead of being tied to one.

“I don’t understand how the spirit of compromise and working together is not looking at what those differences are, talking about those differences, and trying to come to a resolution on them,” McDougle said.

As if the situation couldn't be any more laughable, the commission was not just supposed to be redrawing the General Assembly maps, but Virginia's congressional maps at some point later this year as well. While Moomaw says it's "unclear if commissioners have the appetite to even attempt that task or will simply ask the Supreme Court to take over redistricting altogether," it's not hard to argue that the commissioners are likely just going to give up. 

There had been issues from the start, due to delays from census data, 13 News Now reported in August. The commission ultimately set up a deadline of October 10 for the General Assembly map, a date that has now arrived. The congressional maps were supposed to be done by October 25, which, again, seems unlikely. 

It looks like many Democrats are about to get exactly what they warned would happen. "After winning a majority in 2019, many House Democrats turned sharply against the commission idea, saying it would inevitably result in a deadlock that would hand redistricting to the conservative-leaning Supreme Court," Moomaw wrote. 

In addition to delays and walk outs, Democratic hypocrisy was highlighted last month by Moomaw as well, who wrote about state Sen. George Barker, a Democrat representing Fairfax, with his damning headline of "Incumbent protection remains flashpoint as Virginia senator tries to draw his own district lines." Townhall covered Moomaw's reporting last month as well.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder has said the process was about a "fair" system, as he did when appearing on "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell" on July 8. He is also listed as someone who endorsed the amendment on the website in favor of the amendment.

"I support - and will work to make effective - the Commision in Virginia to do the redistricting in 202," Holder tweeted on March 7, 2020, as he retweeted a statement he made in favor of the commission.  Yet it's clear his efforts did not such thing to actually make such a commission "effective" when it's turned out to be anything but.

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