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New redistricting committee all but gives up map effort

FALLS CHURCH (AP) Virginia’s new bipartisan redistricting committee all but gave up its effort to draw new congressional maps after committee members could not find consensus on what constitutes a politically fair map.

The redistricting committee had already thrown in the towel on drawing maps for the General Assembly, but committee members had held out some hope that consensus could be found on lines for the state’s 11 congressional districts.

At a meeting Oct. 20, though, the commission of eight Democratic and eight Republican appointees split down the line on votes designed to set a standard for what constitutes political fairness.

The commission voted unanimously to adjourn permanently, with the caveat that the commission’s co-chairs could call it back into session if perhaps commissioners on their own can develop a compromise map that might break the gridlock.

The Commission’s Democratic co-chair, Greta Harris, saw little hope for that happening.

“We tried. It was a first for the commonwealth, but this isn’t working,” she said.

The Oct. 20 failure came after Democratic and Republican map drawers took their final shots at drawing maps that could garner bipartisan support.

Ultimately, Democrats favored a map that would create five safe Democratic districts, four safe Republican districts, and two swing districts. They argued that such a map would give each side a chance to win a majority of the congressional delegation, while also allowing Democrats to hold on to the 7-4 advantage they currently hold.

Republicans, though, said the fairer option was to have five safe districts for both Republicans and Democrats, and one swing district. Commissioner Ryan McDougle, a GOP senator from Mechanicsville, said he could reluctantly accept if the swing district leaned Democratic, but that was as far as he could go.

The commission took two votes on whether it preferred a map with a 5-4-2 split or a 5-5-1 split. Each vote failed on an 8-8 tally, with all Democrats on one side and all the Republicans on the other.

The votes on how to fashion a partisan split on the districts were not tied to any specific map. Generally, though, the maps favored by Democrats preserved the 7th District, currently held by Richmond-area Democrat Abigail Spanberger, as a district that was either evenly split or gave a slight lean to Democrats. Maps favored by Republicans drew the district in a way that gave it a strong Republican tilt.

If the commission somehow comes up with a compromise map before its deadline expires, it would have to receive support of 12 of the 16 commissioners, and then the support of the General Assembly.

If the commission fails to come up with a map, the task of drawing the new lines will fall to the state Supreme Court. Some Democrats who opposed the commission’s creation in the first place argue that the court tilts Republican.

Voters approved the commission’s creation in a referendum last year. The legislature voted to send the measure to referendum; Republicans strongly supported the measure, with Democrats split on the issue.

Some Democrats expressed frustration that they were turning over control of the redistricting process at a time when Democrats control both the legislature and the governor’s mansion, and also at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court has essentially given a green light to partisan gerrymandering.

-MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press

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