Virginia NAACP raises concerns over latest redistricting maps

Virginia NAACP raises concerns over latest redistricting maps
Published: Dec. 25, 2021 at 6:50 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The Virginia NAACP says it has been an active participant in the redistricting process since the beginning. The latest draft maps, drawn by two court-appointed special masters, are raising concerns that the say of Black voters is being watered down.

The organization says that the drafts rely heavily on American Community Survey data. They also split some Black communities of interest in specific districts.

In a comment to the Virginia Supreme Court, the VA NAACP outlined its concerns and offered solutions in the form of new maps for selected districts.

“Simply put, the effects of racism even persist today,” Virginia NAACP President Robert Barnette Jr. said. “Multiple federal courts have recognized and relied upon the history in invalidating past redistricting plans.”

In the past, Black votes were weakened in two specific ways: they were “packed,” or concentrated in districts with an overwhelming majority of Black voters to reduce the number of Black votes in other districts. Or, they were “cracked,” with Black voters split across multiple districts to dilute their vote.

It’s a delicate balancing act to ensure Black voters are properly heard, a protection enshrined in law at the federal level and in Virginia.

The NAACP’s filing with the Supreme Court raises several issues with the special masters approach. Some are specific, like the redrawing of Congressional Districts Three and Four splitting up Black communities. Others apply state-wide, like the special masters’ use of American Community Survey (ACS) data instead of the recently released census data.

“We literally just got census data in August. Why are we not using the census data?” Virginia NAACP Executive Director Da’Quan Love said. “More over, ACS data is a guess, it’s an estimate.”

The concern over the ACS data is not just a desire for the latest, most up-to-date numbers. The VA NAACP and its partners in this filing point to examples of ACS data routinely over- or under-counting the Black voting age population in certain districts, something census data would help correct.

“ACS data routinely and often significantly undercount Black voting age population, as reflected in the full 2020 Census count,” Barnette Jr. said.

To address those concerns, the organization has submitted proposed fixes: newly drawn maps that they say better protect Black voters in specific districts. The group also included comparative analysis data between their maps and the special masters.

“What I thought was kind of inventive about what the NAACP did, is that in their brief, they didn’t redraw the whole map. They just put out the districts that they wanted redrawn,” UVA Center for Politics Associate Editor J. Miles Coleman said. ”It would give the special masters some kind of leeway to incorporate the NAACP concerns into whatever their next product was.”

The Virginia NAACP has successfully sued in the past over district lines. A lawsuit filed by the organization resulted in Virginia’s maps being redrawn in 20124. It says that’s not off the table in the future.

“The Virginia NAACP has been a part and leading this fight protecting Black and brown Virginians, both quietly and publicly for the last year and for many years,” Love explained. “We’re gonna continue to do that work and whatever, whatever it takes.”

The Virginia NAACP is also calling for more public hearings on the issue. For now, any decisions on changes to these drafts is in the hands of the special masters.

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