The Bulletin

Political analyst and university professor chosen to redraw Virginia political districts

By: - November 19, 2021 4:36 pm

The Supreme Court of Virginia in Richmond, Va. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For The Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Supreme Court has picked Sean P. Trende and Bernard N. Grofman to serve as “special masters” who will redraw voting districts throughout the state.

The decision comes after weeks of controversy concerning the failure of the new Virginia Redistricting Commission to select the two people to redraw the maps. Consequently, the decision was turned over to the Virginia Supreme Court, which rejected all three Republican nominees and one from the Democratic side.

After the parties came up with new candidates this week, the court made its choice on Friday.

Trende, nominated by Republicans, is a senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics and is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

He is a lawyer and journalist with degrees from Yale and Duke Universities. The Washington Times has called him a “premier numbers cruncher.” A frequent guest on Fox News, CNN Radio and PBS’s “All Things Considered,” he is the author of the book “Lost Majority.” He practiced law for eight years at the  Kirkland & Ellis law firm in Chicago and the former Hunton & Williams firm in Richmond.

Grofman, a Democratic candidate, is a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine, who has three degrees, including a doctorate from the University of Chicago.

 Grofman was chosen in 2015 to help Virginia redraw voting districts after federal judges ruled that Black voters had been “packed” into certain districts to make it easier for white candidates to win in adjoining ones. In 2018, he was chosen to redraw maps for the state’s House of Delegates districts.

Redistricting maps are routinely drawn after U.S. Census reports following demographic changes at the end of each decade. They are used until the next census a decade later.

In the past decade, the state has been sued more than a dozen times because of claims that parties in control of the General Assembly at the time schemed to redraw maps to help their candidates.

Concerned about map-drawing being overly partisan, state voters adopted a constitutional amendment in 2020 creating a Redistricting Commission of eight lawmakers and eight citizens to try to provide a more even-handed way of divvying up voting districts.

But the commission failed to accomplish that and the choice was sent to the Virginia Supreme Court.

In its decision released Friday, the justices wrote that, “The Special Masters shall not consult with any political parties, partisan organizations, outside experts or any other person or entity except for their personal support staff.

Democrats had complained that the initial Republican candidates – former U.S. Census Bureau member Thomas Bryan, National Republican National Trust executive Adam Kincaid and Adam Foltz who had worked on redistricting issues for Wisconsin Republicans – had conflicts of interests.

The Virginia Supreme Court agreed, dismissed them and asked for a new slate. One unnamed Democratic candidate from the initial group was let go after expressing discomfort with working in a two-person setting. Many special masters work alone.

The two special masters have 30 days to come up with their redrawn maps,  which then will be considered by the General Assembly. The redrawn maps will include all districts for state and Congressional offices.

“We’re happy with the choices,” said Liz White, director of the OneVirginia2021, a voter advocacy group. “The court has done an excellent job of trying to mitigate political influence.”

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Peter Galuszka
Peter Galuszka

Peter Galuszka is a veteran journalist with nearly 50 years of experience. He has written for Style Weekly, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Virginian-Pilot. He was executive editor of Virginia Business magazine and spent 15 years at Business Week magazine, where he reported and edited from Moscow, New York and Chicago. Contact: [email protected]