Virginia’s redistricting commission is again fully staffed after a departure earlier this month, which has left the commission without citizen representation for Southwest Virginia.
Virginia Thornton, a Lynchburg-area lawyer from Forest, will replace Marvin Gilliam of Bristol as one of the citizen members representing the GOP on the panel.
Virginia’s redistricting commission is tasked with drawing political boundaries for the state’s congressional and General Assembly districts using data from the 2020 census. The census has promised to deliver its data to states in August. The commission is slated to deliver maps to the General Assembly for approval by Sept. 30.
Due to census delays prompted by the pandemic, elections for the House of Delegates this fall will be held using the existing political maps, which were adjusted by the courts in 2019 in a decision that found Republicans had racially gerrymandered some districts nearly a decade prior.
Thornton was voted into the commission by its members on Monday, with 13 ayes and two abstentions. The commission also considered Jeffrey Wayne Bolander of McGaheysville in Rockingham County. Both Thornton and Bolander were nominated by Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, the Senate minority leader.
In January a panel of retired judges had selected two names from each of four lists of citizen finalists submitted by four legislative leaders. In replacing Gilliam the commission turned to the remaining 14 finalists on Norment's list, none of whom lives west of Roanoke.
Thornton couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Monday.
The redistricting commission was created through a constitutional amendment voters approved in November’s election, and is made up of eight lawmakers and eight citizens.
The commission will hold regional public hearings as it gets ready to begin drawing maps. A public hearing is scheduled for Richmond on Aug. 3 at the Pocahontas Legislative Building. Details on other public hearings can be found at https://virginiaredistricting.org.
The creation of the commission ended the legislature’s sweeping control over legislative and congressional districts. The commission has power over drawing the maps, but the General Assembly has to approve the maps with an up or down vote. In doing its work, the commission has to conform to new rules that restrict political and racial gerrymandering.
If the commission deadlocks on the maps, power shifts to the right-leaning Virginia Supreme Court, which hypothetically has to follow the same rules, though that point is in dispute.