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Virginia Redistricting Committee Begins Accepting Applications

A voter receives a ballot from a poll worker behind plastic screen
A voter in Richmond casts a ballot in October. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Virginia voters can now apply to become inaugural members of a redistricting committee that will redraw Virginia’s political maps next year.

The application process began just weeks after voters approved a constitutional amendment that stripped lawmakers of their traditional power to draw their own districts. It handed that role to a 16-person commission made up equally of lawmakers and citizens. 

Lawmakers will be involved in choosing the commission’s citizen members. Four top lawmakers in the General Assembly will screen applicants and nominate 16 of the candidates. Democratic Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn said she would focus on candidates who embody the racial, ethnic, geographic, and gender diversity of the commonwealth, something required by a newly-passed state code.

“We want the commissioners who are going to be committed to inclusion and definitely dedicated to a fairer redistricting process that protects the vote of every Virginian,” Filler-Corn said.

Filler-Corn also announced two legislative picks for the commission on Monday: Del. Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) and Del. Delores McQuin (D-Richmond City). Both voted against the amendment in the General Assembly earlier this year. Three other legislative leaders --- House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), and Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-York City) -- are expected to announce their picks on Tuesday. 

The ten-page citizen application was approved by a panel of five retired judges last week. It stresses that no particular work or educational background is required to apply. To be eligible for consideration, an applicant must be a Virginia resident and registered voter who has cast a ballot in at least two out of three general elections.

The rules also require that the applicants must not have ever:

  • Run for political office
  • Been employed by a member of Congress or of the General Assembly
  • Been employed by or has been employed by any federal, state, or local campaign
  • Been employed by or has been employed by any political party or been a member of a political party central committee;
  • Served as a registered lobbyist or a lobbyist's client in the previous five years;
  • Be a parent, spouse, child, sibling, parent-in-law, child-in-law, sibling-in-law or roommate of a person who meets one of the previous five criteria.

Legislative staff will screen candidates to confirm that they meet that criteria and make sure the applications are complete. Then four legislative leaders will comb through the pool and each nominate at least 16 candidates, for a total of at least 64 candidates. Finally, a panel of five retired judges will choose eight people from that pool to serve on the commission.

Over 20,000 people applied to California’s 2020 redistricting committee, while Michigan received over 9,000 applications for its new panel. But both of those states had a substantial head start on Virginia, where the timeline is much tighter.

Brian Cannon, director of the advocacy group FairMapsVA, said he would be happy if 1,000 Virginians applied by the December 28 deadline.

“The goal is certainly to get the pool as qualified and diverse as possible,” Cannon said. 

Some advocacy groups hope the next application process will be less cumbersome to potential applicants, who are required to provide three references and list education and work experience. Anna Scholl, executive director of the progressive group ProgressVA, said those requirements “really unintentionally dissuade people who are not affluent and well-educated from applying.”

Scholl, who advocated against the amendment when it was on the ballot, said ProgressVA was now working to publicize the application to as broad a group as possible.

“It is what we have, so it’s incumbent upon us that it reflects the needs of the community as much as possible,” she said.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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