Old Dominion University hosted a public hearing of the Virginia Redistricting Commission on Tuesday at Webb Center.
The purpose of the hearing was to solicit public comment on drawing state and congressional legislative districts in Southside Virginia. In 2020, Virginia voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment establishing the commission, which consists of eight members of the General Assembly and eight citizens, that will draw new state voting maps. Previously, they were created by the General Assembly, usually in a way that favored the majority party.
Six members of the commission were at Tuesday's hearing:
- Greta J. Harris, the commission's co-chair, of Richmond
- Richard O. Harrell III of South Boston
- Brandon Christopher Hutchins of Virginia Beach
- Sen. Mamie E. Locke of Hampton
- Del. Delores L. McQuinn of Richmond
- Del. Marcus B. Simon of Falls Church
Approximately 20 attendees offered input at the hearing, either in person or virtually. Some suggested that the commission should hire a qualified redistricting professional to create up new voting maps. But the strongest sentiment was for congruent, compact districts that are drawn up in a nonpartisan way.
Ofelia Wattley of Norfolk referenced her favorite Hispanic dishes in describing the way districts are currently set up.
"One of the features that make these particular dishes so rich is finely chopping ingredients. That is wonderful for enhancing flavor and presentation of the dishes. But not so much for cities," she said. "Our five cities are all chopped up very finely... It turns out to be confusing when we're looking at districts and what should belong together and who should vote as a bloc. It keeps citizens from voting confidently."
"Generally, people shopping in a regional mall together should vote in the same congressional district together," said Richard Zimmerman of Chesapeake. "And mostly that holds for state senators, too."
Tuesday's hearing was one of eight being held throughout the state this summer ahead of the commission's receipt of Virginia census data, which Harris said is expected in late August. Eight additional regional public hearings will be held in September to receive public comment after the commission proposes redistricting maps.