Virginia Supreme Court appoints two map designers to help with political redistribution of state

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RICHMOND, Virginia (WRIC) – The Supreme Court of Virginia appointed unanimously two map designers on Friday to help the court redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts.

The judges selected Sean Trende, the Republican special candidate, and Bernard Grofman, the candidate proposed by the Virginia Democrats, to help the court in the political redistribution of the state. The two special masters now have up to 30 days to work together on new political maps to submit to the court for review.

“The Court orders the Special Masters to work together to propose a single redistribution card for the Virginia House of Delegates, a single redistribution card for the Virginia Senate, and a single redistribution card for the representatives of Virginia in the House of representatives of the United States, ” the judges wrote in an ordinance on Friday.

Trende is a Senior Election Analyst for RealClearPolitics and a American Enterprise Institute Visiting Fellow, a public policy think tank based in Washington, DC. He has given expert testimony in a racial gerrymandering case in North Carolina and in political gerrymandering cases in several states and has been appointed a voting rights expert by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

Grofman, professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine, served as special court master in the Virginia Congressional District Reshuffle in 2015 and Quarters of the House of Delegates in 2018.

In their Friday order, the judges ordered the special masters to present their card proposals to the court “as soon as reasonably possible”, but they will have 30 days to submit their plans.

Virginia politics electoral redistribution, a ten-year process of overhauling electoral maps with new census data, is now in the hands of judges after the 16-member commission created by a constitutional amendment failed to overcome partisan bickering to reach an agreement on new political maps.

According to the rules adopted by the court, the judges will not draw the new cards themselves but will instead select two special masters by majority vote who have the appropriate qualifications and experience – one nominated by the Democrats and the other nominated by the Republicans – for help in the process.

The judges called on the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Virginia House of Delegates and the state Senate to submit at least three qualified candidates without conflicts of interest by November 1.

The court’s final decision on the two card drawers came a week after judges rejected the three Republican candidates and ordered state legislative leaders to nominate new candidates.

In an order ordering party leaders to find new candidates on Nov. 12, the judges noted that they had not questioned the integrity of the candidates, but wrote that the work done by a special candidate for the caucus Republican Senate of Virginia had created a conflict. The court disqualified the Republican-appointed card designer and the other two, citing concerns about their ability to fulfill the role.

After one of their candidates expressed “a condition or reservation” about working with another special master for the redistribution process, Democratic leaders were also ordered to nominate new candidates.

While the special master candidates are nominated by the state legislative leaders of each party, the judges wrote in the Nov. 12 order that they “shall serve as officers of the court in a quasi-judicial capacity” and must be neutral.

In separate letters to the court on Wednesday, Republican and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly called on judges to consider some requests for redistribution.

Democrats urged judges “Establish an information process with dates for majority and minority caucus submissions, and requested a public comment period after the release of the proposed maps. After having their candidates challenged by the Democrats, the Republicans asked the court to give to both sides “Due process and the possibility of being heard on questions of qualification”.

Hoping to end gerrymandering in Virginia, voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of the bipartisan redistribution commission to oversee the ten-year process of redrawing the political maps.

Census delays were expected, as the coronavirus pandemic initially hampered the US Census Bureau’s in-person data collection efforts, but the agency pushed back several deadlines and information that usually arrives in the spring was passed to the Virginia Redistricting. Commission. in August.

After months of work, the commission of eight lawmakers and eight citizen members reached a partisan deadlock and abandoned the effort without submitting new cards to the state legislature.

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