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Tensions rise as Va. Redistricting Commission begins map-drawing sprint

Co-chairs Greta Harris (left) and Mackenzie Babichenko (right) preside over an Aug. 3 meeting...
Co-chairs Greta Harris (left) and Mackenzie Babichenko (right) preside over an Aug. 3 meeting of the Virginia Redistricting Commission.(Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury)
Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 8:07 AM EDT
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As the new Virginia Redistricting Commission prepares to start drawing new legislative and congressional maps, an increasingly political tone to its deliberations has some members openly speculating about whether the bipartisan body will be able to complete its job.

The 16-member commission met for three hours Monday afternoon to discuss several issues it’s planning to vote on Tuesday morning, including the logistics of who should draw what maps and how much consideration to give to existing political districts and incumbent legislators.

After sharp differences emerged over key aspects of the process, Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, suggested some of her General Assembly colleagues are losing hope the commission will work as advertised.

“I fought very hard for us to have this commission,” Locke said. “But toward the end of our special session, the water-cooler discussion that I heard was that there’s no confidence in this commission to even come up with maps.”

After the arrival of new U.S. Census data last week, the redistricting commission will soon start a 45-day clock to submit new legislative maps to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. The commission, which won final approval from voters last year, is handling that work for the first time. If the commission itself fails to reach consensus on a map proposal or submits maps that don’t pass the legislature, it will fall to the Supreme Court of Virginia to redraw the boundaries.

Virginia’s population grew by 7.9 percent in the last decade, according to census data, slightly ahead of the national average. Mirroring national trends, Virginia saw significant disparities between rural areas and the state’s cities and suburbs. Northern Virginia and the greater Richmond area saw the strongest population increases, while many localities in Southwest and Southside Virginia lost people.

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