RICHMOND — The Virginia Redistricting Commission has until before Monday to come up with a single preliminary map for the state House and Senate, or risk violating the state constitution, according to a Division of Legislative Services attorney.
A constitutional amendment approved by voters last year determined that the Commission must prepare a single proposed map for both the state Senate and House ahead of public hearings, the attorney’s reading of the amendment determined. To meet the deadline, the commission will reconvene on Saturday, ahead of Monday’s public hearing. In a differing interpretation, a Republican attorney hired by the commission said the amendment doesn’t clearly say that more than one alternative can’t be presented to the public.
In a wearied voice, Greta Harris, commission co-chair, conceded Friday that gridlock on consolidating Democratic and Republican maps was inevitable due to the structure of the body — lauded by some for its potential to end gerrymandering.
“There was a structure when this commission was put together that made this very challenging, and then we have self-inflicted wounds of having picked partisan sets of lawyers and map-drawers.”
Commission member Sean Kumar agreed saying “If we do this time and time again, it’s going to come down to party-line votes. … That’s part of the problem having two different map drawers.”
While the Republican state House map didn’t change much from earlier in the week, the new map drawn by Democrats is shifted in their favor through the creation of minority-majority and “opportunity districts” in Hampton Roads and Richmond. The commission is charged with ensuring the interests of minorities under the Voting Rights Act. Given the demographics of Southwest Virginia, racially polarized voting doesn’t factor as much into decisions on where to draw lines as it does in other regions.
A single preliminary state Senate map has been drawn ahead of the public hearing, though it still has some issues to resolve.
The countdown to the Oct. 25 deadline to draft a complete map for U.S. House Seats is also ever closer.
Leah Small is a freelance journalist who enjoys writing about Virginia and national politics, social justice, health, science and craft beer. Proud to be an extended member of the Cardinal News family, reporting from Richmond.