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Public can comment on unfinished Virginia redistricting maps this week

public meeting
FILE PHOTO: The redistricting commission at an early meeting in August. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Virginia’s redistricting commission is hearing feedback this week on new political maps for the General Assembly. But the group still hasn’t come to any agreements, and both its backers and critics are losing patience. 

The 16-person, bipartisan commission was supposed to come to an agreement on Saturday. That would have given the public a single set of maps to review this week. 

But Democrats and Republicans -- made up equally of citizens and lawmakers -- in the group remain at odds, with two separate sets of maps drawn by the commission’s partisan map-drawers in addition to a handful of others submitted by members of the public. 

Liz White, the executive director of OneVirginia2021, a group that backed the creation of the commission, said the lack of consensus was making the public’s job more complicated. 

“I think it’s confusing for the public,” White said. “And I think it just means they’ve got a really, really herculean task ahead of them coming up this weekend.”

The commission’s deadline for the maps is Monday, Oct.  11, but they’ll have an automatic, two-week extension if they fail under state constitutional language approved by voters in November. The General Assembly will need to pass any maps approved by the commission. If the commission fails to reach an agreement or the legislature rejects their maps on two occasions (or once if they need the extension), the Virginia Supreme Court will appoint an expert to do the job based on criteria passed by Democrats last year.  

A key sticking point is how to consider race and comply with the federal Voting Rights Act when drawing districts. Democrats favor more “opportunity” districts with a Hispanic and non-white population between 40 and 49%, pointing to a state law passed year. Republicans say those districts set up the commission for potential legal challenges and aren’t required under federal law.

Progressive groups like Progress Virginia that opposed the amendment are also speaking out against the deadlock.

“The commission is making this whole process much harder than necessary because some members are focusing on districts that protect incumbent politicians, keep a partisan balance in the legislature, and avoid dividing localities,” said Ashleigh Crocker, the group’s communications director, in a statement Monday. 

You can find more information on how to give feedback this week at the commission’s website

For people who want to give public testimony, White says to be concise -- they’ll have just three minutes to talk -- reference a specific map, and make a small, actionable request. She said she was still hopeful the commission could come to an agreement and said all would be not lost if they failed.

“I think when you set something up to be bipartisan, and you have a partisan balance, you do run the risk of gridlock,” White said. But even if that happens -- “there’s still maps not being drawn in a back room by people whose jobs depend on them. I think it still represents a significant improvement to the old system.”

Ben Paviour covers state politics for VPM News with a focus on accountability journalism.