Proposed Virginia maps scale back majority Black districts

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Proposed redistricting maps under consideration by the Virginia Supreme Court would constitute a significant reduction in the number of majority Black districts in the Virginia General Assembly.

But in a memo released by the special masters that drew the proposed maps, they said the new districts increase “where minority groups would have the ability to elect their candidates of choice.”

The experts who drew the maps say Black voters can still elect candidates of their choice in the legislative districts by forming coalitions with other groups.

The Virginia Supreme Court held a public hearing Wednesday to get feedback on maps submitted for new boundaries in Congress and the General Assembly.

Most criticism from Wednesday’s public hearing focused on Virginia’s 7th district.

The proposed map moves that district from central Virginia to Prince William, Stafford and parts of other northern counties.

“I am here today to address your draft map of the congressional districts which has gutted my district, the 7th congressional district, and moved it to a completely new part of the state,” said North Chesterfield resident Patricia Heidelmark. “The seventh district or as we call it, here, the heart of Virginia has literally disappeared.”

Richmond-area counties would be split amongst the 1st, 4th and 5th districts.

Heidlemark said the move by the special masters looked like an attempt to silence suburban voters.

“There are many, many ties, both transportation, economic, educational partnership partnerships that exist in the region. And it just seems odd to have broken that up from the seventh in the way it was done,” Henrico County resident and former Goochland county schools superintendent Harold Cawthorn told the justices.

“I’m concerned also… about what has happened with the shift of predominantly black voters from the existing 7th district to the 4th Congressional District and in fact packing that district… I do believe that dilutes the the effects of black voters throughout the region.”

The majority of other speakers voiced similar concerns about the Richmond area to the Virginia Supreme Court justices for the two plus hour public hearing.

But a few voiced their support for the proposed map.

“The special masters have drafted maps that have given minorities increased opportunities to elect candidates of their choice,” said Lois McCray with the National Black Non-Partisan Redistricting Organization.

“The maps clearly appear to be much more compact without weird gerrymandered districts shape like sleep sleeping dragons and old men walking,” Chris DeRosa from Arlington County.

VA redistrict map
A proposed congressional map would move the 7th District, represented by Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, from the Richmond suburbs to Northern Virginia. Western Chesterfield County would move from the 7th District to the 5th District (in yellow). Western Henrico County would shift from the 7th District to the 1st District. (Graphic Supreme Court of Virginia)

Watch the hearing:

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