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Derailed redistricting commission begins work on congressional maps, but hits similar roadblocks

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The Virginia Redistricting Commission began evaluating congressional district maps Thursday, after abandoning work on state Senate and House of Delegates maps this week. But the same issues that derailed that process seem to remain. (Photo: Ben Paviour/VPM News)

The Virginia Redistricting Commission began evaluating congressional district maps Thursday, after abandoning work on state Senate and House of Delegates maps this week.

The group has an Oct. 24 deadline to finish state maps, which were derailed after a range of mostly partisan disagreements over competing sets of maps drawn by Democratic and Republican map makers.

Republican co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko expressed hope at an earlier meeting this week that congressional districts would be easier to discuss - unlike state delegates and senators, congresspeople are not on the commission. Although tensions seem to have died down among commissioners, there was no clear direction given to map drawers at the end of today’s meeting on ways to move forward.

Democratic co-chair Greta Harris, one of the citizen members who walked out of a meeting last week, said it was important for Republican and Democratic map drawers to produce one map for the commission to discuss on Monday.

“I am fearful of asking each map drawer to do their own version,” Harris said, noting that prior discussions fell apart over competing partisan maps.

Attendees and commission members gave feedback on the draft maps presented today. Del. Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) said that political data showed the Republican proposal would favor the party in a state where Democrats have won statewide elections for a decade, overrepresenting a party with fewer voters.

But he also took issue with the Democratic map. “I don’t see either one of these as being a clear starting place,” Simon said about the partisan maps.

State Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) agreed with his Democratic counterpart.

“If you’re locking in one political party to have a majority of the districts, even on the Congressional, for ten years, I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to do,” McDougle said.

Harris acknowledged that the commission wouldn’t be able to give specific directions to the drawers at this meeting,  but urged commissioners to think about what they want to prioritize in congressional maps to provide better guidance on Monday.

The commission also heard public comments Thursday. Over 100 members of the public signed up, but less than a quarter were present in person or virtually to speak.

Many comments were on the topic of partisanship. Some asked the commission to reconsider last week’s decision to abandon the state maps.