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Citizen applicants for Virginia redistricting commission skew white, male, over age 50

Citizen applicants for Virginia redistricting commission skew white, male, over age 50

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A week from the Dec. 28 deadline to apply, citizen applicants for Virginia’s new Redistricting Commission are skewing white, male, older and comparatively well-off.

Of 214 applicant profiles that the Virginia Public Access Project had received from the Virginia Division of Legislative Services as of Friday, 161 were for men and 53 were for women.

VPAP found that 175 of the applicants were age 50 or older, including 75 who were 61 to 70; an additional 47 applicants who were 71 to 80; and six others who were 81 or older.

Twenty-five applicants were Black, seven were Hispanic, three were Asian and two said they were an American Indian or Alaska Native. Six said they were multiracial.

In approving a state constitutional amendment Nov. 3, Virginia voters set in motion a new commission that will redraw the boundaries of the state’s congressional and legislative districts next year based on census data. The bipartisan commission will be made up of eight lawmakers and eight citizens.

A majority of Democrats in the House of Delegates voted against the redistricting amendment during the General Assembly session, arguing that the measure would not end gerrymandering and did not guarantee people of color a seat at the map-drawing table.

Last week when VPAP released an initial review of applicant profiles, Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, tweeted that Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, had warned about a lack of diversity on the panel.

“I’m not the one to say I told you so but when it comes to the redistricting commission, @PriceForDel95 tried to tell y’all,” Aird tweeted. “Old. Rich. White. Men. But that seems to be part of the Virginia way.”

Legislative leaders already have named the commission’s eight lawmakers. Two are African Americans — Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, and Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. The other six legislators are Sens. George Barker, D-Fairfax, Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, and Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg; and Dels. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, Les Adams, R-Pittsylvania, and Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland.

A panel of five retired judges will pick the eight citizen members of the commission by Jan. 15. Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate will first cull the citizen applications and provide the judges with four lists of 16 applicants each. The judges will pick the eight citizen members by selecting two names from each of the four lists.

Legislators have directed the judges to “ensure the citizen commissioners are, as a whole, representative of the racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity of the commonwealth.” In other words, the judges are charged with fashioning a representative list from the 64 names they get.

Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, said she is “really concerned about the lack of diversity in the VPAP data” and said she is surprised by the lack of Asian representation.

“What’s at stake is fair and equitable representation. Historically what we’ve seen is minority communities, in particular the Black community, be disenfranchised. This is our opportunity to get it right.”

Hashmi said that after seeing the data, she “personally asked a couple of people to apply, and began spreading the message to leadership in the Asian community and Hispanic community as well.”

Virginians do not register by party. VPAP reported that 86 of the applicants described themselves as Democrats and 40 as Republicans, while 73 listed no party and nine listed other. Six applicants did not respond to the question.

VPAP’s profiles, showing that many of the applicants are older and relatively affluent, could indicate that retirees are most confident that they have the time and wherewithal to devote perhaps 60 to 90 days to the task.

Seventeen of the applicants listed their income as below $50,000; 22 between $50,000 and $75,000; 46 between $76,000 and $100,000; 81 between $101,000 and $200,000; and 43 over $200,000.

According to VPAP, lawmakers on the commission will receive $300 a day for their work, while the citizen members of the commission will get $50 a day.

Regionally, 74 of the applications came from Northern Virginia, 54 from Greater Richmond and 39 from Hampton Roads. As of Friday, there were no applicants from Southwest Virginia.

The application is available at https://redistricting.dls.virginia.gov, and applicants must submit three letters of recommendation.

Hashmi said that beyond a cumbersome application process, the lack of diversity could be a result of messaging.

“A lot of folks are busy with their daily lives, work and family, and not as aware of these opportunities,” she said, adding that “targeted dissemination is really the way to tap those community channels in a much more effective way.”

VPAP held a webinar on redistricting Monday that featured former state Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan; Bobby Vassar, former chief counsel to Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, and a board member of OneVirginia2021, a group that backs redistricting reform; and Bob Holsworth, a longtime commentator on Virginia politics. Holsworth was part of then-Gov. Bob McDonnell’s independent panel on redistricting after the 2010 census.

Holsworth said the bipartisan effort to redraw district boundaries, involving legislators and citizens, is likely to prevent the “most egregious” partisan redistricting, but that the finished product likely will protect many incumbents.

Vassar said he hopes Virginia will view the effort “as an evolutionary process — that we don’t expect nirvana from the beginning.”

acain@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6645

Twitter: @AndrewCainRTD

Staff writer Mel Leonor contributed to this report.

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