(The Center Square) — A report from the Coalition Hub for Advancing Redistricting and Grassroots Engagement gave Virginia a “C” grade for the 2021 redistricting process and mapping outcomes that determined the districts for the upcoming General Assembly general election.
States are redistricted every 10 years following the completion of the U.S. census, and both state and federal laws guide the redistricting process for U.S. House Districts and state legislature districts.
Federal law broadly governs redistricting by stipulating that states can have no more than one representative per 30,000 residents, that districts should be relatively equal in population and cannot discriminate based on race or ethnicity. However, many particularities of the redistricting process and the factors determining how a district should be drawn come down to state law.
CHARGE, which is composed of nine different organizations, including the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, graded states based on the “fairness” of their redistricting processes, elevating processes that attempt to expel partisan politics and involve the public in mapping decisions.
In 2020, Virginians passed an amendment that called for creating a new redistricting commission. The Virginia Redistricting Commission began with eight members of the state legislature (four Republicans and four Democrats) and eight community members, also split evenly politically.
However, with equal representation of both political parties, the commission could not agree on district renderings in time. The project finally went to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which appointed a special master to draw the maps.
CHARGE believes that elected officials shouldn’t be a part of redistricting commissions, as they may have a personal interest in how the districts are drawn. Instead, it advocates for an independent citizens commission, where individuals with “personal bias” are eliminated in the screening process and have an odd number of commissioners to break tied votes.
CHARGE also advocates for ample transparency and engagement with the public in the redistricting process, like advanced notice of redistricting hearings, easy public access to those hearings, the collection of public comment and assurances that public comment will be considered.
Lastly, the group also promotes the use of racially polarized voting analysis to ensure racially equitable redistricting and sufficient representation of communities of interest.
While the Virginia Counts Coalition facilitated some public engagement in the process, there could be more and reforms to the commission process should include “build[ing] out more specific outreach plans for the commission to engage the public,” according to the report.
The commission did not use racially polarized voting analysis in this round of redistricting.
Ultimately, Virginia received a “C” grade for these reasons and because, while the commission’s makeup made it too susceptible to partisan gerrymandering, according to CHARGE’s analysis, it was an attempt at reform – and the built-in “Supreme Court backstop… still produced strong district maps.”