Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Redistricting: Breakdown!

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The redistricting process has broken down here on the eve of the deadline of the Virginia Redistricting Commission to report to the General Assembly.

The divisions and distrust are so deep that the members could not agree even on which maps to use as a starting point in session on Friday.

When the Commission last met last Saturday, it ended the day with Republican- and Democratic-drawn maps for both the House of Delegates and Senate. During the first part of this week, it conducted eight virtual public hearings. The goal for today was to adopt one map for each house to report to the General Assembly by the deadline on Monday. Continue reading

Redistricting: Incumbents, Open Seats, and Partisanship

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Most General Assembly incumbents are resting easier. The Democrat and Republican map drawers took their guidance from the Virginia Redistricting Commission seriously and drew district lines putting most incumbents in districts with no other incumbents.

As discussed in an earlier post, the Commission members interpreted Virginia Code language as requiring it to protect incumbents as much as possible. That language prohibits the production of plans that, on the whole, “unduly favor or disfavor” a political party.

The extent to which the lines were drawn to protect incumbents is not obvious on the maps that have been made public. However, the map drawers, while presenting their recommendations on Saturday to the Commission, were able to turn on an overlay in their software that showed the precise location of each incumbent’s residence. A large number of those little dots were very close to district lines or nestled in an area that suddenly bulged from one district into an adjacent district. Continue reading

Redistricting: Impasse?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Redistricting Commission started its meeting on Saturday with the goal of reaching a preliminary agreement on one draft map for the House of Delegates and one draft map for the Senate in anticipation of public hearings scheduled to begin on Monday. Six hours later, the meeting was adjourned with the members at a near impasse.  There was no “integrated” map for either house and the members had trouble agreeing on how to proceed to the public hearings.

Continuing the approach they had been using in the past, there was a House map developed by the Republican map drawer and one by the Democratic map drawer, each incorporating changes suggested by the Commission members in earlier meetings. During their review, they made some progress, even tweaking some lines in the Lynchburg area and some involving Pittsylvania, Henry, Patrick, and Floyd counties.  The problems arose when they began considering Hampton Roads and the Richmond area. Continue reading

Redistricting: Incumbents, Race, and Prisoners

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The most recent meeting of the Virginia Redistricting Commission was marked by tension over the two most sensitive issues—incumbency and race. The meeting was supposed to be dedicated to viewing efforts of the two sets of partisan map drawers to come up with a single map for the Senate districts upon which they could agree. Instead, it was spent largely going over ground that had not been resolved regarding the development of majority-minority districts.

Mackenzie Babichenko, the co-chair whose turn it was to preside, started off the meeting by announcing that, in compliance with the statutory requirement of “political fairness,” incumbent addresses had been released to the map drawers. She went on to say that the map drawers had been advised that they could consider the data in drawing districts, but political fairness should have the lowest priority of the various criteria they had been given to consider. Continue reading

Redistricting: Voting Rights Act

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

After the population issue of “one man, one vote,” the next priority the Virginia Redistricting Commission must consider in the drawing of new election districts is compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act.  This post will lay out the main principles that need to be considered.

I need to make this caveat clear up front:  I am not a lawyer and I am certainly not an expert in the field of election law or the Voting Rights Act.  Election law is a complex and, at times, Byzantine, area.  In addition to the statutory language, there is a large body of case law, some of it conflicting, that has developed around the Voting Rights Act.  The following discussion is a distillation of the main points presented to the Virginia Redistricting Commission in a report by its consultants and a joint memo from its Democratic and Republican attorneys entitled:  Voting Rights Act Legal Primer.

As the attorneys note:  “Section 2 [of the Voting Rights Act] prohibits what is referred to as ‘minority vote dilution’—the minimization or canceling out of minority voting strength.”  It is important to note that the “dilution” need not be deliberate for there to be a violation of Section 2.  It is sufficient that there be a diluting impact, intentional or not.  In summary, Section 2 requires that members of a minority group have a fair opportunity “to elect representatives of their choice.” Continue reading

Redistricting: the First Stab at Statewide Maps

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Redistricting Commission started out by dividing the state into eight regions. Its original plan was to proceed with drawing House and Senate districts, region by region, starting with Northern Virginia. That quickly proved to be inefficient, slow, and impractical.  Last week the map drawers  were instructed to produce statewide House and Senate maps. As part of their guidance, they were told to “respect” political subdivisions as much as possible, while adhering to the compactness and equal population requirements.

Today, they produced those maps for the Commission members, and the public, to view and comment on. I will use one county with which I am familiar, Halifax, to illustrate two aspects of the redistricting process: how different, legitimate approaches can produce different results and the partisanship dilemmas. Continue reading

Convicted, But Innocent–Emerson Stevens

Emerson Stevens with his attorneys, Jennifer Givens and Deidre Enright.   Photo credit: Alec Sieber/ UVa School of Law

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In August, Governor Northam granted a full pardon to Emerson Stevens. Stevens had been convicted of killing a young mother of two in 1985 in a small fishing village on the Northern Neck. The pardon was based on evidence that “reflects Mr. Stevens’ innocence.”

Stevens maintained from the beginning that he was innocent. His first trial ended in a hung jury. The second jury found him guilty and sentenced him to 164 years in prison.

He was paroled in 2017 after being held in jail and prison for more than 30 years for a crime he did not commit. Although free on parole, he continued to fight to clear his name. Continue reading

Redistricting: Let the Lawsuits Begin!

Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell) Photo crecit: Steve Helber/AP

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The first draft maps had not been drawn when the first lawsuit challenging Virginia’s redistricting process was filed.

Sen. Travis Hackworth. R-Tazewell, along with several other plaintiffs, is challenging 2020 Virginia legislation that required, for redistricting purposes, prison and jail inmates to be allocated to the population counts of the locality of their last known address, rather than to the localities in which the prisons and jails in which they were incarcerated, as had been the practice in past years. (That legislation was the subject of an earlier BR post.)

Because most prisons are located in rural areas, by shifting their populations to other areas of the state for purposes of the population totals used in redistricting, the lawsuit claims that the change will politically weaken rural areas.

The basis for the suit is unusual. The defendant is the newly constituted Virginia Redistricting Commission. The Commission was established through voter approval of a constitutional amendment approved in a 2020 referendum. The court petition claims that, because the legislation dealing with how the Commission should treat prison populations during its redistricting efforts was passed by the legislature and not approved by voters in the referendum, the legislation is invalid. Continue reading

What We Want the Future to Know About 2020

Janice Underwood and First Lady Pam Northern place items in new time capsule Photo credit: Bob Brown/Richmond Times Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Several  commenters to the previous post on the removal of the Lee Monument expressed interest in the items that were placed in the new time capsule that was to be placed in the base of the former Lee Monument.

According to a news release from the Governor’s office, these are the items: Continue reading

Lee Monument Removed

Photo Credit: Bob Brown/Times Dispatch

Yesterday morning the Lee Monument, the last major and most prominent celebration of the Lost Cause, was removed. Virginia and Richmond have now truly embraced the 21st Century.

Former Norfolk Sheriff Convicted of Fraud and Bribery

Former Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Here is another name to add to the list of corrupt public officials — former Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe.

Earlier this week, a federal jury convicted him of all 11 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. The charges covered actions committed over a 22-year period. They included accepting gift cards to expensive restaurants, Redskins tickets, free catering for his annual golf tournament, an all-expenses paid trip to Nashville, “loans” that were never repaid, and thousands of dollars in cash to spend during casino trips. He was also charged with providing inside information to select companies seeking contracts with the sheriff’s office.

Testifying in his defense at his trial, McCabe admitted to violating campaign finance laws, but claimed it was not intentional. “I just didn’t pay attention to them like I should have.” He also admitted getting loans and gifts from businessmen who had multi-million dollar contracts with the city’s jail, but insisted, “I’ve never taken a bribe in my life.” The “loans” and gifts were because they were friends, he insisted. Continue reading

Driving While Black Redux

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Some participants on this blog have voiced skepticism regarding the claim that Black drivers are more likely than white drivers to be pulled over by law enforcement. Jim Bacon even went to great lengths to demonstrate that it was difficult to determine the race of a driver in a moving vehicle. These skeptics have called for some data to support the claim, rather than relying on single egregious incidents such as the one that occurred in Windsor last year.

That data is now available and it supports the hypothesis that Black drivers are more likely than white ones to be stopped for traffic infractions.

Using recently available data from the Dept. of State Police, the Richmond Times Dispatch has calculated that “drivers who are Black are 1.6 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers based on their respective populations. And once stopped, Black drivers are 1.6 times more likely to have their car searched than white drivers and 1.3 times as likely to be arrested.” Continue reading

Republican Senator Quits Redistricting Commission

Sen. Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) Photo Credit: Bob Brown/Times Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Sen. Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) has resigned from the Virginia Redistricting Commission. He was one of two Republican Senators appointed to the Commission.

Newman did not give any reasons for his decision. However, it is difficult to think it was not out of personal pique at the turn the decision process has taken. As I detailed in my last post, the bipartisan co-chairs announced in their August 23 meeting a policy forbidding individual commissioners from communicating with the Commission’s partisan attorneys and map drawers outside of a public meeting or without all the members being aware of the communication and any questions and of the response. This policy largely negates the decisions previously made by the Commission and vigorously pushed by Newman: two sets of partisan attorneys, two sets of map drawers, consideration of political data, and consideration of incumbents’ addresses. Newman was the most outspoken member opposed to the new protocol. The recent revealing by the map drawers of proposed Senate districts for Northern Virginia must have been the last straw. They were developed without taking incumbents’ addresses into consideration. Any attempted tinkering with those boundaries will have to occur in public session, presumably subject to a series of votes. Continue reading

Redistricting, Part 2: Squabbling Among Democrats, Republicans, and Citizens

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

(Author’s note:  This is the second installment of my reporting and comment on the Virginia Redistricting Commission. Warning — it is long.  I apologize for the length, but it seemed best for interested readers to have a fairly thorough summary of the Commission’s doings up through the end of August in one place, rather than breaking it up in pieces.)

The story of the Virginia Redistricting Commission so far is one of two battles.  One is the partisan struggle between Democrats and Republicans. One side does not trust the other. The other battle is the effort of citizen members to ensure that the process does not become one in which legislators devise districts to suit their own interests. This effort ran into opposition from legislators, primarily, but not solely, the Republican legislators.

Presiding officer

The partisan split was made clear from the beginning. At its first meeting, in an obviously orchestrated move, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, moved that the commission elect co-chairs, one from each party. Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, seconded the motion. Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, declared it a great idea. There was no mention that the state constitution provision establishing the Commission stipulated the election of “a chairman” (emphasis added).

The constitution also stipulates that the chairman be a citizen member. In complying with this provision, the members unanimously elected as co-chairs Mackenzie Babichenko, an assistant Hanover County prosecutor, from the Republican-nominated citizen members, and Greta Harris, from Richmond and president/CEO of the Better Housing Coalition, from the Democratic-nominated citizen members.

The Commission later established two subcommittees and designated Republican and Democratic co-chairs of each one. Continue reading

Redistricting: Say You Want Nonpartisanship?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

(Author’s note: The following is the first of several articles on the redistricting process that is underway in the Commonwealth. There is a lot going on that merits discussion, but it is my sense that relatively short articles, as opposed to long ones with lots of detail, are more appropriate for the blog.  The reporting and comments are based on numerous reports, with links at the end of the articles, as well as on hours of listening to, and watching, the recorded meetings of the full commission and one of its subcommittees.)

The Virginia Redistricting Commission has been preparing since January to draw the Commonwealth’s new Congressional districts, as well as the districts for the state Senate and House of Delegates. I wish that I could say “I told you so,” but it is worse than I feared.

A quick background summary would probably be helpful in refreshing everyone’s minds For many years, Republicans in the General Assembly had resisted calls to hand redistricting over to a nonpartisan commission. Then, in the 2017 elections, they lost 15 seats in the House of Delegates, shrinking their previous 32-seat margin to two seats (and one of those they got literally through the luck of the draw). Sensing the likelihood of additional losses in 2019 and thereby putting Democrats in control of redistricting in 2021 and being able to do to them what they had done to Democrats in 2001 and 2011, Republicans proposed a constitutional amendment in the 2019 Session that turned redistricting over to a commission. The amendment passed the 2019 General Assembly with a lot of Democratic support (the vote in the House on the final bill was 83-15). Continue reading