RICHMOND, Va. -- People wearing robes talking about maps usually does not move the needle for many people, but dozens of voters in Central Virginia expressed concern over proposed maps that split the Richmond region into three separate Congressional districts.
The Supreme Court of Virginia is now in charge of drawing new legislative maps for Virginia. The redistricting process takes place every ten years, following the census.
Virginia’s highest court only got involved because a bi-partisan, voter-approved commission completely failed to produce new maps. The commission, comprised of an equal number citizens and lawmakers from both major political parties, failed to complete their work after weeks of stalemates and in-fighting.
Two special masters hired by the Court released their maps for Virginia’s Congressional delegation, House of Delegates, and State Senate. You can read analysis of each from the Virginia Public Access Project here.
During the first public hearing on those maps Wednesday afternoon, dozens of voters from counties surrounding Richmond voiced worry that the maps unfairly split voters into districts where they have no true cultural or economic connection.
Voters from Louisa County continually told the Justices their county would be split into new districts that do not reflect the priorities of their area. The Congressional maps put Louisa voters in the 1st District, which is represented by Rob Wittman (R) currently and stretches all the way to the Northern Neck.
Others were upset that Richmond’s two largest suburban counties, Henrico and Chesterfield, were split up between three separate Congressional districts.
Under the special master’s map, western Henrico would be split into the 1st District, and eastern Henrico voters would be in the 4th district, which stretches all the way to Tidewater. Similarly, Chesterfield was split up into the 4th District, currently represented by Donald McEachin (D), and the new 5th District, with boundaries that go all the way to Danville and currently represented by Bob Good (R).
“The 7th District, or as we call it here the ‘heart of Virginia,’ has literally disappeared,” said Patricia Heidelmark from North Chesterfield.
“[Chesterfield and Henrico] are two massive suburban communities of interest. In some cases you would minimize, if not destroy, voices of people of color, as well as centrist and independent voters,” said Melissa Dart from Henrico.
“It is imperative the Goochland remain with Henrico and Chesterfield counties. We are inextricably linked by social, economic, cultural, and regional ties,” said Tina Winkler, a Goochland County resident.
The special masters who drew the maps were tasked with drawing compact and fair districts across the entire Commonwealth and specifically wrote in a memo explaining their process they purposefully did not consider whether incumbents would be grouped into the district they currently represent.
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the court’s proposed congressional and House of Delegate maps an “A” mark, and the Virginia Senate map a “B” grade overall.
“The maps clearly appear to be much more compact, without weird, gerrymandered districts shaped like sleeping dragons and old men walking,” said Chris Derosa, who lives in Arlington.
Another public hearing on the prosed maps is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 17 from 1 to 4 p.m. You can watch the live stream and submit written comments. That information is here.
The new maps are set to take effect for the next election, the congressional midterms. The Justices and special masters plan to review the public comments and could tweak their maps in the coming weeks.