Northern Virginia residents on July 27 told the Virginia Redistricting Commission to redraw congressional and state legislative boundaries in ways that are logical, protect minority voting rights and do not split communities.
“Incumbents’ home addresses should not be a starting point for drawing maps,” said Bill Millhouser of Annandale.
The public hearing, conducted at Dewberry Hall on George Mason University’s Fairfax campus, was among eight being conducted this summer by the 16-member commission. The final two hearings were slated for Aug. 3 and 5.
Some residents at the July 27 meeting recommended the commission start from scratch and work from maps drawn 10 years ago by the Citizens Advisory Commission, which they said state legislators had ignored.
Del. Vivian Watts (D-Annandale) said she had survived two redistrictings: the 2000 one that left her with a 40-percent new district and the 2010 effort, which resulted in a 44-percent new district.
“Gerrymandering is something that I know well,” Watts said. “In defining community, please look at precinct lines, not sub-census-tract lines.”
Alexandria resident Thomas Osborne suggested the commission should examine approved housing projects when calculating a district’s likely future population.
“Under-populated districts mean overrepresentation for those areas and overpopulated districts mean underrepresented,” he said. “It’s true that fast-growing areas inevitably end up underrepresented during the life cycle of this 10-year redistricting.”
Osborne compared a nine-county area in southwest Virginia with a six-jurisdiction one in Northern Virginia and said while the former’s population had decreased 8 percent from 2010 until the 2019 estimates, the latter’s had grown by 17 percent.
Given the commission’s pandemic-compressed timetable to achieve results, Michael Martin of Springfield advised the group to make and publish a detailed redistricting plan, use project-management methodology and hire a consultant to facilitate and expedite the plan.
“I am rooting for your success,” Martin said. “You can do this. Now is your time to shine and Virginians will thank you. But please hurry.”
The 11th U.S. House of Representatives District, occupied since 2009 by Gerald Connolly (D), was a frequently cited example at the meeting of a poorly district. Speakers said voters living in Reston, Vienna and Tysons had nothing in common with those in Triangle on the district’s southern edge.
Mike Clancy, who has run for office in Northern Virginia, suggested the 11th District could be remedied by incorporating the 10th District’s Fairfax County precincts. Interstate 495 also could be used as a natural boundary with 11th District precincts inside the Beltway being shifted to the 8th District, Clancy said.
Some speakers favored reducing the number of state legislators in Arlington County, which now is represented by four delegates and three state senators. Only one of those lawmakers, Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), represents Arlington only.
Arlington resident Christine Derosa said the county would be represented better by two delegates (and perhaps a third with a split district) and one state senator. She also wanted one delegate, not two, to represent the county’s Halls Hill neighborhood.
Reston resident Paul Berry, who chairs the Virginia Latino Advisory Board and Fairfax County’s 20-member redistricting commission, urged the state redistricting commission to “bring all Virginia residents fully into the civic-participation process.”
“Some institutions of civic life have not and do not work for all Virginians,” he said.
The commission, which only accepted feedback and did not engage in debate at the public hearing, is co-chaired by Mackenzie Babichenko of Mechanicsville and Greta Harris of Richmond. Other citizen members include James Abrenio of Fairfax, Jose Feliciano Jr. of Fredericksburg, Richard Harrell III of South Boston, Brandon Christopher Hutchins of Virginia Beach, Sean Kumar of Alexandria and Virginia Trost-Thornton of Forest.
General Assembly members constitute the rest of the commission. These include House of Delegates members Les Adams of Chatham, Delores McQuinn of Richmond, Margaret Ransone of Kinsale and Marcus Simon of the Falls Church area and state Sens. George Barker of Alexandria, Mamie Locke of Hampton, Ryan McDougle of Mechanicsville and Stephen Newman of Forest.
The commission will need to produce its proposed legislative maps within 45 days of receipt of 2020 U.S. Census data, which should occur within about two weeks. The General Assembly will vote on, but not modify, the plans. If legislators don’t pass a map, the commission must draw another. If lawmakers vote down the second version, the Virginia Supreme Court will enact a new map.
For more information on the commission, visit virginiaredistricting.org.
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