Redistribution commission reflects on what went wrong after missing card drawing deadline

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The Virginia Supreme Court is set to intervene after a panel of lawmakers and citizens failed to agree on new political maps before a key deadline on Monday.

However, the group has yet to give up hope.

This is the first time that the Virginia Redistricting Commission – a bipartisan panel – has been tasked with creating new district lines. The process takes place every ten years to determine political representation based on residency. It was previously controlled by the majority party in the state legislature.

Voters who approved the constitutional amendment in a referendum last year hoped it would be a big step towards ending gerrymandering but, so far, partisanship has remained a major obstacle.

This was fully exposed on Friday when three Democratic members of the committee walked out of a meeting, a sign that the panel would not meet Monday’s deadline to approve the new General Assembly cards.

“At this point, I don’t feel that all members of the committee are sincere in their willingness to compromise and create fair maps of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Democratic Co-Chair Greta Harris said before speaking. leave the room. “Unfortunately I’m done, thank you very much for the opportunity to serve, but I will be retiring from the commission at this point.”

Harris, who has regularly voiced concerns about the dilution of minority representation, said Monday she had no plans to resign.

The explosion came after Republicans struck a last-minute deal. The proposal was to use the House of Delegates map drawn by GOP consultants and the State Senate map made by Democrats.

In a virtual meeting on Monday, Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) said he had experienced “all stages of mourning” after Friday’s meeting. He said he felt caught off guard by the new Senate map that was unveiled on Friday morning and that he “ignored public comments.”

“I thought Friday of last week was a total sandbag. A total set-up, ”McDougle said. “This card struck me as a very clear political gerrymander.”

“It seemed that there was a fundamental lack of confidence in the motives of the other and that each side was not attacking but defending and suspicious,” said co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko.

Several members agreed that part of the problem was hiring two teams of partisan line draughtsmen with no plans to merge the cards. Some have said the strategy should be scrapped as the committee attempts to shift to congressional districts. The group will meet in person on Thursday to decide whether to start from scratch or build on existing limits, among others.

In a telephone interview, Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax) disagreed that having partisan consultants to draw separate maps was inherently flawed. He said the commission should keep moving forward.

Instead, Barker blamed the novelty of the process, the delays in obtaining census data, and the decisions to push substantive disagreements to the end.

“I like the process. I like the fact that we have put it in place where General Assembly members are involved and if we learn from that it will be easier to do it faster, ”said Barker.

Other members of the committee said the bickering is proof that lawmakers must be taken out of the process entirely in favor of a non-partisan, all-citizen committee, which also includes independents.

“I think you have to eliminate the policy or present it in a way that makes more sense, but it didn’t work that way,” Babichenko said.

For now, it looks like the fears expressed by some House Democrats last year will materialize. The conservative-leaning Supreme Court is expected to take over the map-drawing process following the standoff on the General Assembly district lines.

However, Barker still hopes this can be reconsidered during the 14-day extension allowed by the amendment.

“I think there is still hope for the General Assembly district lines in the next 14 days, but I think it is much more likely that we will come to an agreement on the Congress cards. “said Barker.


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