Redistricting: Fairness is in the Eye of the Partisan

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Redistricting Commission has hit another wall.  This one, over Congressional districts, is good, old-fashioned partisan politics, dressed up as differing perceptions of fairness.

Last week, the Commission decided to keep Congressional districts Three and Four intact, with only those changes needed to bring their populations in line with what was needed to meet the legal requirement. These districts were those drawn by the special master and adopted by the federal court following the lawsuit several years ago. On advice of counsel, the Commission decided that this was the safest approach to avoid any Voting Rights Act challenges. Each set of map drawers was directed to proposed appropriate changes for those districts. For the reminder of the state, the Republican map drawers were directed to draw the lines for the districts in Southwest Virginia, Southside and the Valley. The Democratic map drawers were directed to draw the three districts encompassing Northern Virginia. Both sets of map drawers were then directed to draw the lines for the other three districts in the state, after accounting for the districts drawn by their counterparts.

At last Thursday’s  (Oct. 14) meeting, the results were presented and discussed.  The Republican proposal for the Fifth District, anchored in Southside, instantly drew fire from Democrats. It had the advantage of being more compact than the current Fifth District, which stretches from the North Carolina line to close to the Maryland border. However, in making it more compact, the map drawers had to find more people, which they found in the western parts of Henrico County and in Chesterfield County. Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, did not hesitate to label this a “cracking” of the Democratic voting areas in the Richmond suburbs.

The Thursday meeting adjourned after lengthy discussion with a general agreement that the map drawers would put their respective pieces together into a single, composite map that the Commission could consider at the next meeting.

Del. Simon had grumbled about “Tom Davis’s map” some on Thursday. On Monday (Oct. 14), the issue exploded. To put this issue into context, any citizen is able to submit a map for the Commission’s consideration and the Commission encourages them to do so. Tom Davis, a retired Republican Congressman from Northern Virginia had done so. And his map was very similar to the map that the Republican map drawers had proposed for the Commission’s review.

After making some inquiries over the weekend, Simon revealed Monday that the National Republican Redistricting Trust had been behind the map submitted by Davis and, in fact, a representative of the Trust had submitted the map to the Commission on Davis’s behalf. Later, in an interview, Davis acknowledged that he had contacted the National Republican Redistricting Trust and asked them for help drawing a map.

Simon contended that it seemed there was collusion between the national Republican Party, Davis, and the Republican map drawers. That drew fire from the Republican members of the Commission with Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Martinsville, charging that “collusion” was a serious legal issue and that none of the elements of collusion were present. He suggested that Simon, who had opposed the constitutional amendment creating the Commission, had been put on the Commission to blow it up.

The Republican map drawer assured the Commission that his team had not communicated with any outside party, except to direct them, when asked, to the appropriate person in the Division of Legislative Services who could assist with submitting the map to the Commission. He explained that he had looked at Davis’s map along with other maps submitted by citizens, as the Commission had directed, but any semblance of their map to Davis’s map was a coincidence.

Simon backed off a little, saying that he would accept at face value the explanations offered. However, “Even if it was a relatively benign process, if it’s just a coincidence that the Republican map-drawer picked Tom Davis’s map to draw the three southwest districts, the result is the same.” Even on Thursday, he had announced that the Republican map was a nonstarter for him. On Monday, he said that was still the case, even more so.

The changes in the district boundaries result from  the loss of population in the Southwest and Southside and the gain in population in the Richmond area and Northern Virginia. The areas in the middle get pushed and pulled about to compensate for these population shifts.  The major changes are in the Fifth and Seventh Districts.

Under the Republican approach, the major casualty would be Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D).  She currently represents the Seventh District, which runs from the Richmond suburbs to Culpeper County. The Democrats in the Henrico and Chesterfield parts of the district offset the largely Republican rural areas of the district.  The map proposed by the Republican map drawer would put some of those Henrico and Chesterfield Democrats into the Fifth District, which is largely a Southside, rural, Republican district. It would put some other Henrico Democratic areas in the First District, which consists primarily of the rural Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck. Henrico County would be carved up among three districts. In summary, Spanberger would be left with a district bereft of the voters that constituted her main support.

Drawing a district to get rid of a Congressman is not unheard of. In the redistricting following the 1990 census, Democrats openly and gleefully gerrymandered Rep. George Allen’s Charlottesville home area into a district that also included Rep. Tom Bliley, a powerful long-time Republican Congressman who represented the Richmond area. (Allen retaliated by running for, and winning, the governorship a couple of years later.) The paradox is that Democrats were able to do that because they were the majority party in the legislature. Now, although Republicans are the minor party, they still have the ability to try to eliminate a Democratic member of Congress.

Both sets of lawyers/map drawers reported to the Commission, when asked, that, based on recent election history, the combined map included five districts that were clearly Democratic, five that were solidly Republican, and one that was a tossup.

There was a lot of discussion of what the goal should be. The terms “fairness” and “fair maps” were tossed around a lot. Some asserted the need for competitive districts. For a while, it seemed that the two sides were ignoring the actual Code language: “A map of districts shall not, when considered on a statewide basis, unduly favor or disfavor any political party.”

When they finally got around to the actual Code provisions, the Republican counsel stressed that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that redistricting maps did not have to be proportional. Furthermore, he contended that “unduly” does not mean proportionality. If the General Assembly had meant that districts should be drawn in a proportional manner, it would have said so.

The Democratic counsel pointed to the Virginia language, contending that “unduly” allowed for proportionality. He argued that, when a majority of the voters in a state had expressed a preference for one party in recent years, then the redistricting map should reflect that majority. The implication was that, if that majority was not reflected, the map would be unduly disfavoring that party.

In summary, the argument over “fairness” boiled down to one of two positions:

  1. Parity—there should be the same number of solid districts for each party. (Republicans favored this definition.)
  2. Proportionality—the party that had gotten the most votes statewide in recent years should have the majority of the districts leaning in its favor, rather than have its supporters spread among other districts, thereby diluting their vote. (Democrats favored this definition.)

Because there were not a sufficient number of members physically present at the Monday meeting to constitute a quorum, the Commission could not take any votes or any official action.

At the Wednesday (Oct. 20) meeting, the meltdown was complete. Many of the same arguments broached at the previous meeting were repeated. Contending that giving Republicans five safe districts would not reflect the changing demographics of the state and recent voting patterns, Simon moved for adoption of an alternative map that he had submitted to the Commission. That map was adjudged to have five solid Democratic districts, four solid Republican districts, and two competitive districts. The motion failed on a 8-8 party-line vote. Sen. McDougle, R-Hanover, then offered a motion to approve the combined map, based on the Republican drawing of the Southwest and Southside districts, that was felt to give each party five safe seats, with one competitive seat. That motion failed, also on a 8-8 party-line vote.

Unspoken, but doubtlessly on the minds of most members of the Commission, were the significant national implications of these decisions. With Democrats clinging to a tiny margin in the House of Representatives, any decision that could result in Republicans picking up even one seat in Virginia could have major ramifications following next year’s Congressional elections.

Next Monday, October 25, is the deadline for the Commission to submit a Congressional map to the General Assembly for approval. If it does not meet that deadline, as now seems likely, a 14-day extension automatically kicks in. If it does not agree on a map within that extended period, the issue goes to the Virginia Supreme Court. The “penalty” for using the 14-day extension is that the Commission would not get another chance if the General Assembly rejected any map it produced.

Perhaps due to its disappointment in having to give up on the maps for the state legislature, and getting some criticism for doing so, the Commission finally agreed that it was not ready to give up entirely on the Congressional map. Before they adjourned, the members agreed to reconvene if the co-chairs, after finding that Republican and Democratic map-drawers had made progress toward a compromise, jointly called them back.

Republican Commissioner Jose Feliciano, Jr. said, “I think we owe it to the commonwealth to fight until the end.” However, Greta Harris, the Democratic co-chair, lamented, “But at some point or another, banging your head against the wall and expecting something good to come out of it is just not worth it.”

My Soapbox

I feel badly for all the well-intentioned folks who labored for many years to create an independent redistricting commission. When the Republicans pivoted after the 2017 elections and drafted and passed a constitutional amendment that had partisan interests baked in, those advocates were stuck. I don’t know whether they continued to push for the amendment because they were naive enough that they did not recognize the potential for partisan gridlock, hoped that politicians’ “higher angels” would prevail, or because, in good conscience, they felt they could not back away at that point. Whatever the case, they must be sorely disappointed at the results.

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43 responses to “Redistricting: Fairness is in the Eye of the Partisan”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    The thing that really amazes me is just how wildly different (and lopsided) the process can generate districts from definitely favoring one party to the other.

    One might think, Obviously wrongly, that you couldn’t bias the districts to such a huge extent.

    So.. really, it’s no surprise the partisan division and gridlock.

    This approach – is not going to work. It’s a fail.

  2. Super Brain Avatar
    Super Brain

    Another good article. Proof positive that when it comes to partisan politics, there are no good guys.

  3. Lawrence Hincker Avatar
    Lawrence Hincker

    The baldly partisan nature of the political members is evident in this straightforward but outlandish statement:

    “Parity—there should be the same number of solid districts for each party. (Republicans favored this definition.)”

    Where is it in our political system is it written that districts are drawn for political parties?! They are supposed to be drawn for the citizens in those districts in order to elect people who represent them. None of us who worked for the independent redistricting commission ever assumed that politics could be totally eliminated. But the emerging notion that parties must be protected is simply wrong. We’ve gotten to a point that the parties, races, ethnicities, and other affiliations should be the primary driver for drawing district lines, when in fact, the primary driver ought to be geography and municipal boundaries.

    In the end, there’s plenty of blame to go around but in the end both Dems and Republicans are the source of the problem. For example, when Madame speaker intentionally nominated legislators who were strong opponents of the independent process, we should have known the process was doomed. I can’t wait to see what the Supreme Court produces.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I could not agree more. This is NOT a process that the political parties should be in charge of.

      I don’t know how it gets fixed since any changes have to be approved by the same political parties that cannot do this process right.

      If Virginia had a true Citizen-initiated referendum ability, we could fix this right now.

      But again – we basically are being held hostage by both political parties – they OWN our political process.

      JAB likes to talk about “political class”.

      This is it – not the “leftists” he often refers to – both parties have essentially a stranglehold on how we elected representation.

      Virginia is not alone on this. This atrocity is rampant across the country.

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        I would have enjoyed paying more attention to this. I think the court will probably avoid seeking partisan advantage for anybody and will focus on compactness and communities of interest. If two incumbents get paired, they may be from both parties and free to run. Won’t that be a nice change.

    2. We’ve gotten to a point that the parties, races, ethnicities, and other affiliations should be the primary driver for drawing district lines, when in fact, the primary driver ought to be geography and municipal boundaries.

      Party politics aside, the Voting Rights Act prevents that from happening.

  4. Virginian78 Avatar

    I was on this commission and resigned on July 7 because I realized that the commission’s efforts were futile and that the lines would be drawn by the Va. Supreme Court. There were two non-partisan citizen members of the commission whom I respect tremendously, one a Dem appointee (Kumar) and one a GOP appointee (Babichencko) but their voices were not listened to during the important debates. I also want to credit two of the elected officials, George Barker and Steve Neuman (now resigned from the commission) as being exemplars of moderation and compromise.
    This is a really difficult process and the current mix of citizens and politicians dooms the process from the beginning.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I’m not sure it would be possible to put together a group in this process without the same outcome.

      There was still stilly stuff going on – like splitting Henrico into 3 different districts… and some of the districts extending to the Bay? that’s not right.

      1. tmtfairfax Avatar

        Fairfax County has been split into multiple districts, now three, for decades. What is the difference?

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          It depends on how they are split.

          Urbanized areas will have to be split but they should be split like pie slices around the urban core – as opposed to long sinuous districts that extend far into rural areas that are not related to the urbanized region – contiguous nor communities of interest.

          Virginia set up planning districts a long time ago – they epitomize continuous and compact districts related communities of interest.

          The way the Census folks do it with MSAs is also similar and also meets those two criteria.

          1. – compact and contiguous
          2. – communities of interest

          what the POLs do is draw those districts according to their political wants – not voters right to elect those who are tuned to THEIR communities of interest.

          Someone who represents Fairfax should not be the same person who represents a rural community far from Fairfax. Ditto Henrico and other places.

        2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          First of all, Fairfax is too big to constitute one district. Second, its splits have been with surrounding jurisdictions that have much in common with it. On the other hand, part of suburban Henrico would have been in a district that included Halifax County, a rural county more than two hours’ drive away. Another part would have been in a district that included Gloucester County, another rural county, at least two hours away.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Ideally, you’d start with the MSA or PD – then draw a circle around it then subdivide into pie wedges – the size adjusted to hold the correct number of voters. So the pie wedges themselves might be different sizes but each wedge would be compact, contiguous and have communities of interest – and NOT extend out to totally unrelated rural ares.

            so for example, Henrico would be oriented around the Richmond MSA, PD and MPO…. move around the Richmond centric geography for other counties that abut Richmond, etc…

            sorta like this:


          2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore

            You have proposed this before. It sounds good in theory, but, upon examination, there are lots of problems. First of all, I am not sure why Virginia should use a framework, designed by the Feds for its purposes, for an entirely different purpose.

            Some other problems:

            1. Virginia has 10 MSAs. Three of them include localities in other states.

            2. A large number of rural counties are not included in any MSA. How would you account for them in a redistricting based on MSAs?

            3. MSAs are very wide ranging and are not restricted to obvious communities of interest. For example, in the figure you provided, you did not draw edge of the circle enough. The Richmond MSA includes Sussex, a rural county further to the southeast. Also, the Washington-Arlington, D.C. MSA includes rural Madison County as well as Spotsylvania County. I don’t think folks in Spotsylvania would want to be in a district that included Fairfax (and vice versa).

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            I also specified Virginia PDs which are also based on similar criteria.

            I’m not advocating exact matches or boundaries – I just drew an approximate one for Richmond.

            As to the example of Spotsylvania – Spotsylvania is not a community of interest east of it – Northern Neck nor west of it very far – it lies between RIchmond and Washington and yes, of the 133,000 folks a substantial number of them commute to NoVa for work.

            I think the associated with MSAs as well as MPOs is much more relevant than some guy/gal from a rural area without far fewer commuters to an urban area and certainly so as to the wishes of the Dem or GOP party or an incumbent who never really was a real representative of the interests of that place.

            So let me make clear – not hard and fast on boundaries but as a general guide instead of someone defending the interests of the GOP or DEM or incumbents.

            Voters should have elected who actually identify with and represent their “communities of interest”.

            If the Dems and GOP were out of the process, it actually would gravitate to more compact districts with communities of interests – of which the Dem and GOP actually oppose when it conflicts with THEIR interests.

            I just don’t think we’re ever going to get to a better/correct process as long as the GOP/DEm are in charge of it.

          4. tmtfairfax Avatar

            Back up the truck. Of course, Fairfax County cannot constitute a single district. But it need not be split into three districts that include other local jurisdictions. A Fairfax County-only district could be created and the rest of the County combined with other jurisdictions.

            I think it was in the 1990s, that redistricting even split McLean into two congressional districts. That was pure protect the incumbents.

            The goal is never redistrict to keep communities together. It’s to protect incumbents and attempt to get one party or the other an advantage in another district.

            The Virginia process failed once George Barker asked to include protecting incumbents to the process. It’s been all downhill ever since.

          5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore

            You are correct–the criterion of protecting incumbents led to some districts crossing jurisdictional boundaries that would not have been necessary. And yes, the protecting of incumbents tainted the whole process.

            However, the issue of incumbents was not what led to the impasse over state legislative districts. And it certainly was not the crucial issue in Congressional redistricting. (A Representative does not have to live in the district he or she represents. In fact, Morgan Griffith does not live in the Ninth District that he represents.)

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            Agree.. BUT it was the “needs and wants” of the two political parties that could not be resolved and my view is that those needs and wants were no more legitimate than the incumbents…

            it’s a tainted process all around as long as it is NOT based on geography, compact and contiguous and communities of interests.

            They talk the talk but they bail when it comes time to walk the walk.

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    I expect the State Supreme Court to decide this. Out of 7 judges 4 were appointed by Democrats. The new map will likely lean Democrat. All Republicans can say is until next time.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I and hoping the judges not use the current maps from either side and ask for maps to be drawn that have contiguous districts with communities of interest without regard to parties or incumbents.

      I’m pretty sure that CAN be done by map drawers not from Virginia and done double-blind so neither the party demographics nor incumbents are known to the folks running the software for the maps.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Mr. Larry it just doesn’t work that way. Too much at stake for integrity and honesty.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          ah…. some of us are too “slow witted”/naive and not cynical enough to recognize that, apparently. 😉

          I actually see that and that’s why I was opposed to this process from the get go.

          There is no way in hell people who “belong” to one party or the other are going to vote against their own interests.

          It was either dumb or condescending or cynical, or all three to create this commission with the premise that partisans would “compromise”.

          Give Virginians the right to initiate referenda – and they will fix this.

          1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore

            Voter initiation is not a good idea. It is dangerous primarily because it calls for a “yes” or “no” vote. There is no opportunity to propose amendments to a proposal.

            The referendum to amend the Constitution to establish the Redistricting Commission is a prime example of this danger. In theory, a redistricting commission is an attractive idea, but the details made it unworkable, but there was no opportunity to work out those details. It was all or nothing.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            It works in other states but it does need guardrails…. but you COULD present voters with options… also….

            I don’t like our current political process that is “owned’ by two political parties that govern more according to what the parties want than voters… right on down to how voting districts are drawn.

            Of the two evils – I see citizen initiative (with rules) as a way to counter that.

            We already present referenda to voters – but they are very much “curated”…. just like the one for redistricting – the only choice was yes or no and the “yes” choice was fatally flawed from the get go – perhaps on purpose.

          3. tmtfairfax Avatar

            Agree. Look at the mess the initiative has created in California.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            citizen initative – like other things needs guardrails but to not have it at all – let’s the political class run wild.

            so, it’s way more than California : check the map:


          5. Give Virginians the right to initiate referenda – and they will fix this.

            Minor point: If it has to be given to you by someone else then it is not a right.

            With that said, if enough Virginians cared enough about the issue we could force the GA to delegate the power to initiate referenda to the citizens, but only if we all committed to voting out of office any/all GA members who oppose citizen-initiated referenda, regardless of their party affiliation.

            With the current power structure, both Rs and Ds will do pretty much whatever it takes to make sure the citizens of Virginia never get that power.*

            *I engaged in some minor hyperbole, here. I doubt that all members of the current GA oppose citizen-initiated referenda – just most of them.

          6. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            If you are looking principled politicians you might find one in this picture show. Both parties do this. The slickest side wins.

          7. LarrytheG Avatar

            Asking the two political parties to decide voting districts is like letting folks operate cash registers in paying their bills on the “honor” system.

            It’s just an unrealistic expectation.

        2. Why Mr. Whitehead, I did not know you were such a cynic…

          …or should I say realist?

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            I think Churchill captures my thoughts on this. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot. It requires give and take. That seems virtually impossible right now.

      2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        Even the process used by the Supreme Court will not be free of partisan politics. By law, the Court is to select two special masters, one each from lists submitted by the leaders of the two parties in the General Assembly. These two special masters are to “work together” to produce plans to be considered by the Court.

        The plans considered by the Court are required to adhere to the criteria set out in state law, which includes not “unduly favoring or disfavoring” any political party (whatever that means).

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          I did see that and yes, still very much partisan and basically when you get down to it – just fewer “participants” whittled down to two folks agreeing (making deals?) and get rid of the super majority agreement requirement as well as the ability for a minority to derail it.

          I still think there could be a “double-blind” map process where the instructions to the software are compact, contiguous and communities of interest (MSAs) and not other criteria allowed including party demographics.

        2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
          James Wyatt Whitehead

          Maybe we will get lucky and one of the special masters will be Bill Mims.

  6. Thank you Mr. Dick Hall-Sizemore for another insightful and delightful dispatch on the deliberations of Virginia’s dismally dysfunctional district-defining deputation.

    1. how_it_works Avatar

      That’s some Awesome And Adequate Alliteration!

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    so here are Virginia’s planning districts – the are old so they may need to have a re-look at their boundaries – but it’s a much better starting point than looking at who the incumbents are or what the preferences are of the Dem or GOP parties… start with something like PDs or MSAs or MPOs and build on them and totally reject the “needs” of the incumbents or the “wants” of the Dems and GOP. I don’t get why this is so hard except to recognize that the true “political class” is the Dems, the GOP , and the Incumbents:

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I agree that using PD makes more sense than using MSAs. And, if you compare the map of the planning districts, you will see, I think, they line up fairly well with the proposed legislative and Congressional districts.

      But, even using PDs as a starting point is not going to avoid the issues you want to avoid. Take protecting incumbents, for example. Three Republican incumbents live close to Lynchburg. Relying on the PD there would not protect them. Fine, that’s easy. But, several Democratic Senators live in Fairfax County, which is one member of a planning district. Lines could be drawn to protect those incumbents without violating the reliance on the PD.

      Then there is the matter of political leaning and the Voting Rights Act. The Commission, on the advice of both Republican and Democratic lawyers, decided to leave the Third and Fourth Districts alone because they had been set up by the federal court. That meant that the map drawers had to work around those districts. Now, look at the Fifth District. If one wants to make it more compact, i.e. don’t have it stretching from North Carolina to Fauquier County, one needs to pick up bodies somewhere. PD 13 and 14 constitute the bulk of the Fifth Congressional District. Where to pick up the needed bodies? You can’t go east, because those localities are part of the Fourth District, which is a VRA district. You could go west to Pittsylania and Henry Counties or you could go northeast to Chesterfield, Powhatan and Henrio. Those are decisions that need to be made that are unrelated to PD boundaries. In short, those are political decisions.

      In summary, there is no magic wand or an easy way to do it. Probably the easiest method would have been to start with the existing legislative districts and make adjustments for population. But, the commission, to its credit, decided to start from scratch. Watching the videos of the meetings or, better yet, trying to draw a map yourself, taking into account the population requirements, compactness, VRA criteria, communities of interest, and jurisdictional boundaries (do I split Lynchburg, for example) will quickly tell you that it is not a straightforward task. There are lots of decision points along the way and people have their own preferences over how to deal with those decision points.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I don’t advocate PDs or MSAs or MPOs as the SOLE approach but rather as a starting point along with ruling out from the get go – incumbency as well as what the political parties want.

        In other words, focus on geography and communtiies of interest and rejct incumbancy AND what the political parties want.

        We are essentially hostage to the political parties on a fundamental aspect of Democracy and one-man-on-vote. The political parties don’t give a crap about that – they want power and the voters are pawns.

        The last thing in the world that voters “need” is “safe” districts… it’s a perversion of one-man-one-vote IMHO.

        And I say this knowing full well that some results may not be what I would like – but the basic intent of the design of our Country’s governance was fidelity of representation, and now a lot of it is a process to try to maintain/protect the political status quo.

        1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          You are right. It could have been done in a more nonpartisan manner. Legislators would not have been on the Commission. Citizens would have been chosen by the Supreme Court with an eye to impartiality; it would have rejected any citizen with a history of partisan activity–sort of like selecting a jury. There would have been one, impartial map drawer (like the University of Richmond program proposed by the Commission’s Democratic counsel); there would have been one legal adviser without a history of representing either party in court. But, that was not what was proposed to the people for a constitutional amendment. In 2019, the Republicans in the General Assembly, seeing the handwriting on the wall, fashioned a redistricting commission on which they could have equal sway with Democrats. I don’t think either party is happy that the whole thing is being turned over to the Supreme Court, where they will have less influence.

          There were some positive aspects of the new process, mainly its transparency. No more back room deals. And, the public was able to weigh in with comments and suggestions. And the members of the Commission paid attention to the public input and, in many cases, heeded it.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Yes, agree on the transparency… that really did reveal the deep divides and just how hard it will be for that kind of committee structure to succeed and not have it turned over to judges.

            But the other “transparency” is that we don’t really trust the citizens to weigh in on the process but still want it more or less controlled by party leaders or party-appointed judges.

            And I still think this is a fundamental flaw that pretty much abdicates governance to the two political parties, and it’s crystal clear they really don’t see themselves as accountable to voters. Their actions are clearly partisan and to a certain extent I don’t think that’s unexpected.

            But it’s not how we should govern or be governed in my mind.

            We have a few more days to election day and it’s never more clear that both parties are putting ADs on TV for who they think are rubes and low-information folks who will be fooled by deceptive TV ads…

            No more substantiative ads on the issues – nope – it’s boogeyman on steroids from now to election day.

            That says something about the two parties and their assessment of voters….eh? And the horrible thing is they may be right.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    I continue to hold strong views and concerns with respect to the control of our elected governance by two parties who oppose each other on many issues but actually work together to maintain a two-party control of governance.

    And this is no more apparent than the redistricting process – which, until this year, was murky and not very visible. This time around, it was clear, at least to me, that politicians are looking out for their own interests as incumbents and as members of one of the two parties – and really, voters be damned, really derided judging by the content of the ADs on TV these days.

    We need MORE people on the ballot that are not affiliated with either party and rank-choice balloting which will afford GOOD 3rd party candidates the opportunity to win – and to owe their allegiance to voters not a political party.

    One we have more of this and the power of the two parties is weakened, the individual candidates will encouraged to put voters first over party.

    1. Good discussion, all. Dick, your description of the breakdowns in the current process is especially enlightening. But, if I may, isn’t the problem right here: Larry: “We are essentially hostage to the political parties on a fundamental aspect of democracy and one-man-one-vote [as opposed to] focus[ing] on geography and communities of interest.” I think it’s fairly obvious that the old State planning districts, and even the SMAs to an extent, reflect broad geographic “communities of interest” — but they come nowhere near reflecting “one-man-one-vote” because some “communities of interest” are vastly larger than others in terms of population. Thus, for 11 Congressional districts, the northern Virginia planning district has to get sliced and diced to break it into small enough pieces to pass “one man one vote” muster, whereas entire planning districts in rural parts of the State have to be combined with all or parts of others to meet the goal. If you start with planning districts as the core of half of the 11 congressional districts, the remainder become mismatched aggregations of leftover pieces. So we’re left with finding a “fair” way to create a pleasing sausage while somehow avoiding politics! How do other States avoid this conundrum?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Yes. The planning districts vary quite a bit by size and I think some may have changed in terms of geographic scope of communities of interests.
        And finally, probably no matter what approach there will be left over bits and parts that will need to be made part of a district that may not be ideal.

        And this is why I say – START with planning districts along with MSAs and MPOs as geographic communities of interest – as opposed to starting with prior districts that were drawn to suit incumbents and the two parties.

        In other words – start – with communities of interest – which is not a wrong concept – the census folks do it, so do MPOs and PDs – work from there to carve, slice, dice and when too big – divided into sectors that align more or less along the community of interests boundaries – as opposed to extending them out far into rural areas that have little in common with the main region.

        Force that to be the basic guide and rule out incumbency and party preferences.

        And here is my counter-argument.

        Imagine what Census MSAs or MPOs or PD boundaries would look like if we let politicians decide boundaries.

        Get politics out of the process – totally.

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