Redistricting Reform in Virginia
Redistricting Reform in Virginia
Latest: March 16, 2017
Trial is over
Trial is over! Yesterday was the final day of trial in Vesilind v. VA Board of Elections (our compactness suit) and we couldn't be more pleased. We're have a more detailed summary of yester…Read more
The state of Virginia is among the 5 worst offenders in creating fair political districts. Another way to say this is that Virginia is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country – both on the congressional and state levels – based on lack of compactness and contiguity of its districts. This means voters in that state are unable to impact the policy through voting for politicians that more accurately represent the makeup of the state. Essentially, gerrymandering means the supposedly representative government actually has very little resemblance to the population it’s supposed to represent.
Many people don’t realize that legislators actually draw their own districts. This means they are free to do things like carve up our communities, split neighborhoods, and remove people who might want to run against the incumbent politician. Even as we speak, Virginia’s counties and cities are being further broken into multiple pieces to create heavily partisan districts. The real result of this unconstitutional redistricting is that in 2015, all 122 state incumbents were reelected. This is not how democracy is supposed to work. Specifically, this practice is in violation of the state Constitution’s requirement that election districts must be “compact.” OneVirginia2021’s lawsuit argues that in striving to protect incumbents and gain partisan advantage, Virginia state legislators have violated that constitutional requirement.
It’s important for all Americans that we correct this in Virginia. Virginia is not just an isolated region in which poorly districted regions only affect its own residents. The policies adopted by the elected representatives of the state, on a state and national level, have direct consequences for the economic, legislative and judicial positions for the entire country.
Plaintiffs in this case are citizens from across Virginia who believe that taking away the right to live and vote in a compact legislative district harms everyone. We believe compactness CAN be measured and held to a reasonable standard. And we’re arguing that in drawing highly distorted district boundaries, state lawmakers are depriving voters of meaningful competition in their selection of political representatives – quite literally rigging elections. To push for this practice to be changed, we are suing the Virginia State Board of Elections and its officers to bar future General Assembly elections until the political map is redrawn to comply with the Constitution’s compactness requirement.
An independent commission will reduce the conflict of interest legislators have when they draw their own districts. To do this we backed key legislation since 2015 to create an independent redistricting commission with non-partisan criteria. It removes the conflict of interest that politicians have when they draw their own districts. This commission would have specific criteria to use for drawing the maps that prohibit them from using political data.
Here is the Republican Chief Patron of SJ 284, Senator Jill Vogel discussing it:
We have built a strong case and have a great legal team ready to go. Expert reports are filed. Depositions have been taken. Our next big hurdle is a Motion for Summary Judgment on February 28th. We are confident we can prevail and when we do, we’ll go to trial on March 13th in Richmond Circuit Court. Given the nature of this case, we believe it will go to the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Your support will help ensure Virginia’s districts (both state and federal) meet reasonable standards of compactness and strike a blow against gerrymandering in Virginia. Pressure from this lawsuit and the resulting improved standards takes us one step closer to an independent commission in Virginia. We ask that you support our efforts in this critical case by contributing what you can and sharing our story with others.
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March 16, 2017
Trial is over
Trial is over! Yesterday was the final day of trial in Vesilind v. VA Board of Elections (our compactness suit) and we couldn't be more pleased. We're have a more detailed summary of yesterday's court proceedings soon, but for now, we just want to thank Durrette Crump for their extraordinary representation. We expect a ruling in April or May. Stay tuned and keep sharing! We're almost to our goal! #endgerrymandering
March 15, 2017
Second Day of Trial
3.14.17 - Day 2 of our trial. We rested our case yesterday, so today was the defendants’ turn. There are two sets of attorneys for the defendants: the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the House of Delegates (House). Tomorrow we’ll finish up with the House’s expert witness and closing arguments.
The overall take away from today from the defendants: We said we made the districts compact, so they are. We disagree and we’ve got the evidence on our side. I cannot promise that we will win this case – that’s too much to predict – but this case is unfolding exactly how we’d hoped (and maybe even a bit better). So we are pleased.
The OAG called Dr. Hood, an expert from the University of Georgia. He agreed with our attorney, Wyatt Durrette, that our predominance test is a way to test whether or not the legislature made a good faith effort to be compact. We’ll take it!
Next the OAG called Senator McPike, from one of the districts we sued over, the 29th Senate District. Senator McPike is a big redistricting reform supporter and was helping organize OneVirginia2021 before he was elected and way before this issue was cool. McPike’s testimony was mostly about his ability to work in his district, even though it’s a super odd shape. While important that he’s able to serve his constituents, this argument doesn’t rebut the point we make that it’s not compact. It’s really not compact!
Then the star witness for the day, Delegate Chris Jones, took the stand for the House. He testified about how hard he worked to keep equal population (required), adhere to the Voting Rights Act (required), and take into account legislators’ prerogatives for their own districts (not required, but discretionary). I kept thinking that if he just worked half as hard on the constitutionally required criteria of compactness as he did on the constitutionally required criteria of equal population, these districts wouldn’t look so crazy.
Nonetheless, Delegate Jones said he did believe all of the districts were compact – even the now infamous “toilet bowl seat" of the 72nd House District (see the Richmond Times Dispatch, Daily Press, and AP stories).
On cross examination Delegate Jones had some interesting things to say:
- After admitting that he relied on two measurements for compactness (Reock and Polsby-Popper), he said “I don’t know how either one of those [measurements] actually work.” While it would be okay if you all reading this didn’t know that, it is odd that someone who has a constitutional duty to draw compact districts doesn’t know these two measurements.
- At a later point, Delegate Jones couldn’t even recall the name of the “Polsby-Popper” test.
- There’s a third major test – one we used and one used frequently by the OAG and academics – called Schwartzberg, but Delegate Jones said “I was not aware there was a third [test].” It’s frustrating that he knows so little about compactness.
- When comparing 2001 districts he drew with 2011 districts he drew, Jones said that all of the districts we challenged in the House are more compact today than in 2001. That’s odd because the math says they’re less compact. When confronted with the actual mathematical tests Jones said he relied on, he said “by that measure it’s more compact but I would not agree it’s more compact.” Basically he just said: COMPACTNESS IS ANYTHING I SAY IT IS.
We cannot make this up. This case, as we’ve said for a while, is about whether or not compactness means anything at all or just anything the legislature says it does. When they pay lip service to the constitutionally required compactness in some documents or on the legislative floor giving a speech, but cannot tell you anything about how they actually measured compactness it tells you that their talk is just talk. We found a simple, common sense way to measure their compactness and compare it to the other non-required criteria and they failed the test – badly.
Lastly today was John Morgan. He’s gerrymandered professionally for Republicans since 1991. In between gerrymandering every decade, he also works on political races. He was one of the guys helping Delegate Jones in 2001 and 2011. His testimony wasn’t as exciting as Delegate Jones’ but he mostly said he adhered to compactness standards found in previous lawsuits that we believe don’t apply very well to the districts we challenged.
There’s so many good exchanges I wish I could relay word for word to you. But let me just leave you with this: I’m very proud of our legal team. From how they conduct themselves in court, to how quick they are with rebuttals, but also how they keep us focused on the main points and let the other stuff go. We couldn’t ask for better.
Thank you all for your support! By the time you read this, you’ll probably see that we’re over 1,000 supporters in our Crowd Justice campaign and almost at our goal of $50,000. That’s wild! If you can share or chip in (again) to help us get to 50k, we’d be very grateful. Thank you all!
March 14, 2017
First Day of Trial
How can we explain the entirety of this first day at trial? It’s hard to cover it all, but let me summarize the basic frame of this case:
As the Plaintiffs, we say: These 11 districts aren’t compact, which is a requirement in the Virginia constitution. You can tell they aren’t compact by just looking at them – or if you apply any of the mathematical measurements to them. And it’s clear that the legislature prioritized other criteria – like their own re-elections – over this important constitutional criteria.
The defendants, aka the politicians, say: They’re compact because we said they were say they are compact. It’s not up to the court to second-guess that.
In an opening statement, Wyatt Durrette, lead attorney for the plaintiffs (that’s us!), informed the court and those assembled in the packed courtroom that these districts are so oddly shaped and so low scoring (on the mathematical models for scoring compactness) that whatever the legislature had in mind when drawing them, it wasn't honoring the constitutional requirement of "compactness."
After opening statements the plaintiff called their first witness, Mr. Nicholas Mueller. Mr. Mueller was called to testify to the process of using the redistricting software to create maps. He summarized his background on the issue of redistricting, including election law classes at William & Mary Law School and participation in the League of Women Voters-sponsored student redistricting competition.
Mr. Mueller has worked for OneVirginia2021, directly for Durrette Crump, and now in a pro bono capacity on this case. Under the guidance of the plaintiff’s redistricting expert, Mr. Mueller created two “alternative maps,” one showing what districts would look like if compactness was the sole priority (beyond contiguity, population equality, and Voting Rights Act considerations) and the other showing a map that also accounted for factors such as incumbent doubling that the General Assembly would also have to consider.
Cross-examination focused on the details of this map-drawing process and whether or not Mr. Mueller had any personal knowledge of the 2011 redistricting process while the maps were being drawn. (He did not.)
In the afternoon, the our expert, Dr. Michael McDonald (http://polisci.ufl.edu/michael-mcdonald/), testified about how we could actually test out the legislature saying “they’re compact because we said they were.” Turns out that we can! And we did. It’s abundantly clear they gave lip service (or maybe just barely a touch more) to that important constitutional criteria and instead promoted other interests ahead of compactness.
We could explain a lot more about the back and forth, but you really should just see the maps. Here they are: http://www.onevirginia2021.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Trial-Power-Point-Current-Alt-1-and-Alt-2-public.pdf
The maps listed as “Current Plan” are the gerrymandered districts we live under today. The ones labeled “Alternate #1” and “Alternate #2” are just examples we put together to show how much better you can do (and still follow all the other criteria). These maps say a ton just on their own. One of the things they say loudly is that the legislature didn’t take compactness seriously.
Today, we will hear from the attorneys from the Attorney General and the House of Delegates. We may also hear from the map’s chief architect, Delegate Chris Jones (R-Suffolk). Stay tuned.
March 6, 2017
We're breaking records!
It's official! Your support has made this case the most successful in CrowdJustice's time in the U.S.
At over $37,000, we have surpassed the previous record of $36,600. The previous record for number of donations was 650 - we're closing in on 800!
What started out as a "let's try this and see what happens" strategy has ballooned into an exciting collaboration between concerned citizens nationwide who believe in democracy and in doing their part to defend Virginia's Constitution. This campaign is succeeding, and it's because of you. Thank you thank you thank you.
Please don't leave us now! Keep telling your friends. Share on Facebook and help us keep the momentum going. Let's #endgerrymandering in Virginia!
Feb. 28, 2017
These districts "look a little crazy." + $50k MATCH
We won! Today was a small but vital victory on our way to trial. (This was a motion for summary judgment where the lawyers for the House of Delegates were attempting to throw out our case as a matter of law. We prevailed!) Thank you so much for helping us get this far.
Not only did Judge Marchant rule that the case merited a trial, he agreed with our assertion that the districts do, indeed, look crazy. "To some degree they all look a little crazy. They don't look like a circle or a square. They look like a salamander." (See article below.)
We aren't the only ones pumped from today's victory in court. Two anonymous donors - inspired by today's win and by the swell of grassroots support - have agreed to match every dollar if we can hit $50,000.
That's a big goal. It'll be the BIGGEST in CrowdJustice's history in the U.S. But we are doubling down. Are you with us? Here's what you can do:
- Share on Facebook right now. Our page is here and will have the latest to share. (The referrals from our supporters via Facebook are producing the best results.)
- Can you email five people about this? We hope you're as excited as we are - share that with a few friends.
- We are doubling down on this goal. It's a bit scary, but would you be up for doubling down with us? Make a second contribution towards this. Any dollar you contribute is going to be doubled
There's never been a better time to double down with us. You are the reason we've made it this far into this campaign and we need you for the push to the $50k mark.
We go to trial March 13th - just two weeks to go!
Feb. 24, 2017
Crushing it! (Update on actual cost + case strategy)
In the last 18 hours you all have taught us an important lesson: people care about good government + are willing to help fight for it in the courts!
Wow - we are blown away by your generous support. Thank you. Unlike kickstarter, there's no cool memorabilia to give you guys for being with us so strongly (a signed legal memo?), so we are giving away information that's important to know.
- We set a goal of 5k b/c we didn't know if this would even work. (Silly us.) Now we are working towards 20k. Our actual total for discounted attorney fees, expert witness costs, and overall legal expenses through an appeal is $150k. So when we hit 20k, we can't stop! We have a lot more needs.
- If you've already donated, the best way to share this is via Facebook and here's our post that we are promoting (feel free to use it/share it on your page): https://www.facebook.com/OneVirginia2021/posts/1092086410937045
- Tuesday the 28th is a BIG day. We have our motion for summary judgment (which could stop the trial) before the Richmond Circuit Court. If we lose, we appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia. If we win, we go on to trial on March 13th as planned.
- We are fighting to make the word "compact" in Virginia's Constitution actually mean something. It cannot mean whatever the politicians say it means - just look at what they drew! Plus, we have math on our side (see the expert costs above). No one with a straight face can say those districts are compact.
One thing we can say for sure at this moment is - because of you - a super nerdy and super important case is getting the attention it deserves. We are shining a light on this issue and standing up for Virginia's Constitution.
Thank you for your support. Thank you for standing with us. Please help us recruit more people to stand with us - even if they're only able to share the Facebook post right now.
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