The Virginia Department of Elections plans to carry out elections for the House of Delegates based on existing political maps, as census delays push redistricting work into the fall.
“The Department of Elections is preparing to administer the primary election on June 8 utilizing the current districts for the House of Delegates and any local primaries which are the districts currently in law,” Elections Commissioner Chris Piper said in a statement. “We will continue to administer elections on those lines until the law is changed.”
Piper’s comments came hours after Virginia’s newly formed redistricting commission agreed during a meeting on a timeline for redrawing the state’s House of Delegates map over a 45-day period starting in mid-August.
The commission’s timeline is based on a February announcement from the U.S. Census Bureau that it would push back delivery of 2020 census data to mid-August from its original date of March 31.
Once the data is delivered, it will be processed by contractors employed by the commission, who will reapportion the state’s prison population into their home districts. The commission will then hold public hearings and draw its maps.
The commission will send its House of Delegates and Senate maps to the legislature for approval within 45 days of receiving the census data. About two weeks later, it will send over congressional maps.
For now, the commission “will be using this unexpected extra time to learn about the redistricting process so that the members will be able to hit the ground running when it comes time to draw the maps for congressional and state legislative districts for Virginia,” the commission said in a statement.
Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, who sits on the commission, said running House elections using old maps is a foregone conclusion given the U.S. Census Bureau’s timeline, though no court has made a formal decision on the matter.
“Nobody has a different idea that I know of, and no one has come forward to seek a declaratory judgment. I think everyone is waiting for somebody else to pay for the lawyers to file this lawsuit,” he said.
One question looming over the process is how quickly the state will move to implement the new maps the commission draws. If the new maps are too late for this year’s elections for the House of Delegates, the state would have two options: It could either ask delegates to run under new maps in 2022 special elections and then again in the regularly scheduled 2023 elections, or keep the current districts until the 2023 elections.
Simon said the decision may ultimately be up to the courts at whatever point someone files a lawsuit requesting a ruling on the matter. Simon said he hasn’t heard of anyone planning to do that in the immediate future.
“I don’t know that anybody knows what they want to ask for right now. It might depend on what the maps look like and the outcome of the election,” he said.
“If Republicans stay in the minority, they might say, ‘we should run on the new maps in 2022.’ And if Dems manage to lose the majority, I think we’d be saying,’ let’s hold the elections as soon as possible.’
“The inclination right now is to take things one step at a time.”
The commission was created through a constitutional amendment voters approved in a November referendum. The amendment curbed the legislature’s power over the state’s political maps, instead giving the work to a bipartisan panel made up of eight lawmakers and eight citizens.
On Tuesday, several advocacy groups and public commenters urged the redistricting commission to be more transparent about its work, and improve how it communicates with the public.
In a Medium post, Erin Corbett of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table urged the commission to schedule meetings during non-working hours, improve how it advertises its meetings and offer its materials in different languages.
Tuesday’s meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m., at a working hour for many Virginians.
“The commission’s idea of advertising is inconspicuously updating the ‘Meetings and Hearings’ tab on its website — effectively invisible to anyone disconnected from civil rights groups and progressive organizations,” Corbett wrote. “This is not what Virginians voted for.”
A coalition of 11 groups led by OneVirginia2021, which led advocacy for the creation of the commission, urged similar improvements in transparency in a Monday letter to the commission.
“We strongly encourage the Commission to dedicate additional time and resources to thoroughly enable public communication and to determine how to best receive and incorporate feedback from diverse communities across Virginia,” the letter reads.