RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Some residents and politicians criticized proposed redistricting maps for Virginia on Friday, telling the state’s Supreme Court that many communities would see their voting strength diluted by seemingly arbitrary political boundaries.
Virginia’s Supreme Court is redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative maps after a new bipartisan redistricting commission failed to agree on maps earlier this year. The state’s high court began holding public hearings on the proposed maps on Wednesday.
Many of the speakers at Friday’s public hearing, which focused on redrawing legislative and congressional districts, raised concerns about Richmond and its suburbs being carved into three congressional districts.
For example, Amelia County would no longer share a congressional district with Richmond’s western suburbs and instead would be grouped in with more rural counties to the south. The county is currently in Virginia’s extremely competitive 7th Congressional District.
“I’m an independent voter living in a deep red county, which at times is a challenge,” Amelia County supervisor Roger Scott said. “But being part of a swing district, as we have been, has allowed all of Amelia’s people to be represented and heard, not only the conservatives.”
Scott said that Amelia County is a bedroom community of the Richmond metro area. He said the new congressional district map would “squelch the voices of the more moderate and liberal voters of Amelia, most of whom are people of color.”
Concerns were also aired about other parts of the state. Maurice Hawkins, a U.S. Air Force veteran who lives in Virginia Beach, criticized plans to “excise portions of the city of Norfolk from the 2nd Congressional District.”
Norfolk, Hawkins noted, is home to the world’s largest Navy base. And he said it has more in common with neighboring Virginia Beach when it comes to concerns about tourism, the environment and flooding wrought by sea-level rise.
“Our military personnel may work in Norfolk but live in Virginia Beach and vice versa,” Hawkins said. “They do business in Virginia Beach and in Norfolk. Their children go to school in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. And it’s paramount that we maintain congressional representation … that’ll speak to these issues.”
The redistricting maps that were proposed under the Supreme Court’s purview were released earlier this month. They were prepared by two special masters — one each nominated by Democrats and Republicans — in accordance with an order from the state’s highest court.
The draft maps for new congressional districts would provide Democrats a strong chance to win a majority of the state’s 11 seats. But they also draw Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger out of the 7th Congressional District in the Richmond area.
The proposed redistricting maps also would constitute a significant reduction in the number of majority Black districts in the General Assembly. How to protect minority voting rights has been one of the key points of contention in this redistricting cycle, as well as past ones.