The proposed redistricting map would split Lynchburg. Most of the city would be in the 6th District (in dark gray) but the city's majority Black neighborhood (in light gray) would get moved into the 5th District. Map courtesy of Virginia Public Access Project.

RICHMOND — Members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission clashed again on Monday over a map presented to the public as a bipartisan proposal that one commissioner said was largely drawn by a map consultant colluding with the National Republican Redistricting Trust. The map, currently the only remaining draft before the commission, took ire from elected officials and residents of Lynchburg who objected to splitting the city between two congressional districts.   

Del. Marcus Simon, a Democrat from Fairfax and one of the panel’s eight legislative members, said he asked his staff and attorneys at the Department of Legislative Services over the weekend to look into the source of the map after some observers on social media noted that it was mostly identical with a proposal previously uploaded by former Rep. Tom Davis, a Republican from Vienna who represented the 11th District from 1995 until 2008. Davis had submitted the map as a private citizen. 

Simon said what struck him was the split of Lynchburg, because a significant number of residents had previously pleaded with the commission to keep the city of about 80,000 in one district when the panel was working to redraw the General Assembly districts – an effort that ultimately failed after the panel reached a partisan stalemate. “For all the different iterations of our House and Senate maps we found ways to keep Lynchburg whole, and yet this congressional map, which deals with much larger land areas, came back with Lynchburg split,” Simon said.

In the map submitted by Davis, the three districts in Southwest and Southside Virginia – the 5th, 6th and 9th – were drawn nearly identically to those in the proposal submitted by Republican consultants hired by the commission. The latter was ultimately merged with a Democratic map to create C1, the single map presented to the public as a starting point. “This suggested to me that the same person drew the C1 map and drew Tom Davis’ map,” Simon said. 

When he inquired about the Davis map at the Department of Legislative Services, Simon learned that the map had been submitted by Davis, but that “he had some help” from Jason Torchinsky, a partner in the law firm of state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier, and general counsel to the Republican Redistricting Trust, a group formed to raise money and coordinate the GOP’s nationwide redistricting efforts. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie serve as national co-chairs of the organization. 

“The map maker that we’ve employed to make a map for us and the person who submitted the map, and a third party who is undisclosed as being a map maker, all colluded,” Simon said. “There’s a reason that Mr. Trochinsky’s name didn’t come up – because he is the head of the National Republican Redistricting Trust. I don’t believe that this could happen by coincidence, somebody is working together.” Torchinsky did not respond to emails asking for comment Monday.

State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, fired back at Simon: “Collusion is a very serious word, not only in the law – civil and criminal – but in politics as well. I don’t believe that you can make these accusations based on circumstantial evidence when the circumstances of that evidence are not even conclusive or persuasive,” he said. 

Stanley, a veteran attorney, said that the population shifts in Virginia’s Southwest don’t leave many options for redrawing the congressional districts. After the flight of residents recorded in the 2020 census, districts 9 and much of districts 6 and 5 would look the same, “no matter who draws them,” Stanley said. Brian Tyson, one of the Republican consultants, agreed. “We looked at a bunch of citizen maps, there are not a whole lot of ways you can draw in Southwest Virginia,” he said.

Yet no member of the commission had an answer for why the map under consideration carved a large piece of Lynchburg’s southeastern part, including a slice of Ward 2 – which was created as a majority-minority district – from the 6th District, where it had been since at least the 1930s, and drew it into into the 5th District. 

Chris Faraldi, a member of Lynchburg’s city council who had drawn attention to the split last week, on Monday renewed his request to leave his city whole. “While I do recognize the challenges of federal population deviation requirements for congressional seats, taking these approximately 4,200 folks into another district is a split for Lynchburg,” Faraldi, a Republican, said during the public comment period. 

From a statewide lens, there may not be enough population in this case to make a dramatic impact in overall minority representation or spur a violation of some sort, Faraldi conceded. “However, the foundations of this ward were intentionally drawn and confirmed federally in the 1970s after the city annexed a portion of the surrounding counties, which are predominantly Caucasian areas, to ensure the ability of those communities within Ward 2 to elect candidates in a block should they choose to do so,” Faraldi said. 

Lynchburg resident Nicole Sanders echoed Faraldi’s concern. “As it stands, we have two precincts out of 18 that are in one congressional district, and 16 that are in another. This does not represent Lynchburg as a community of interest, which we believe was one of the mandates that the commission was working under,” Sanders said, adding that the split would would “create confusion for our voters and unnecessary expense for our registrar, who will be forced to print two separate ballots, which we believe will drive down water engagement.”

And Niro Rasanayagam, also a Hill City resident, said she was “mystified and hugely disappointed” to learn of the proposed separation. “Ward 2 was created intentionally as a majority-minority ward to give this group fair representation in city matters. It makes no sense to break up this community into two congressional districts, because this cracking will dilute the African American community’s clout and add to voter confusion and disengagement from the Democratic process amongst this group.”

Co-Chair Greta Harris noted that the proposed map sparked more than 170 comments on the commission’s website. “This is exactly what we want, by putting up one map. Instead of one to 10 comments that most other maps have, a single map has gotten the type of review and comment that is so useful to the commission,” she said.

  Harris pointed out that “there are a million different ways to draw a map line,” and she reiterated that the proposed map is not a final version. “When I look at Lynchburg, there are only so many ways to go, but we can add a couple of other counties to get to that magic number of people for congressional maps and keep Lynchburg whole,” she said.  

The Virginia Redistricting Commission will reconvene on Thursday and has until Oct. 25 to agree on a map. 

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.