League of Women Voters of the Charlottesville Area"The League of Women Voters encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy."
Redistricting Update: A Message from ONEVirginia 2021
Redistricting reform in Virginia is at a “now or never” crossroad. The article below, from ONEVirginia2021’s Brian Cannon will bring you up to date. Contact Liz White [email: firstname.lastname@example.org] for ongoing efforts. Even talking about reform with a friend is a help. Keep letting your legislators know it is important to you. You can find your state legislators at https://virginiageneralassembly.gov/ Reform happens in this next Virginia Legislative General Assembly or not at all.
Bipartisan sponsors introduce constitutional amendment so citizens, not legislators, will draw new election districts!
In an urgent effort in the 2019 session of the Virginia General Assembly, Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Staunton) and Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) are sponsoring a state constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering by giving control over legislative district boundaries to an independent commission of Virginia voters. The redistricting process now is controlled by the General Assembly and the governor.
The legislation that would establish a Citizens Redistricting Commission is based on a model worked out by a bipartisan, diverse committee of former Virginia political leaders and election law experts, assembled by the non-partisan reform group OneVirginia2021. The legislature would have a role in the process, but drawing Virginia’s political map would be entirely in the hands of the Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The time is urgent because it takes two years to amend our state constitution. To be in effect in time for the complete legislative redistricting that must follow the 2020 Census, it is essential that the amendment win its initial passage in the General Assembly session that begins January 9. If it is approved this year and again in the 2020 session, it will go before the voters in a statewide referendum in November 2020.
We are confident that the voters will approve this proposal if they get the chance. A December 2018 poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University established that 78 percent of Virginia voters want to amend our state constitution to establish an independent redistricting commission.
But voters will get their say only if the General Assembly allows it. Please tell your delegate and senator to let the people vote to end gerrymandering. Find your state legislators at https://virginiageneralassembly.gov/
The redistricting after the 2020 Census will affect all 100 seats in the House of Delegates, all 40 seats in the state Senate and Virginia’s 11 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. If the process is not reformed in time, we will face another 10 years of gerrymandered legislative seats, elections in which hyper-partisan primaries matter more than general elections, and a legislative agenda driven by partisan polarization instead of bipartisan problem-solving.
Though the process is long, it’s essential to win this reform by amending the Virginia Constitution, because a simple change in the law can be reversed by whichever party is in power at the time.
Under the terms of the proposed amendment, the 10-member Citizens Redistricting Commission must include 3 Republicans, 3 Democrats and 4 independent voters. Any registered Virginia voter could apply to serve on the commission. From those applications, a panel of retired judges would nominate 5 Republicans, 5 Democrats and 12 independents, seeking also to reflect the state’s diversity. Then the Republican and Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates and Senate would reduce that list of nominees to the final 10-member commission in a “strike” process similar to jury selection.
The amendment dictates that the Citizens Redistricting Commission adhere to specific criteria to produce fair districts, including:
- Favor or disfavor no party, incumbent or individual
- Respect city and county lines as much as possible, and otherwise follow recognized boundaries such as mountains, rivers, major highways and established neighborhoods.
- Respect the one person/one vote principle, but use flexibility already approved by the courts (+/- 0.5% for Congressional districts, +/- 5% for General Assembly districts). Over -restrictive population variances have been used in the past as “cover” to ignore other criteria.
- Do not diminish minority communities’ power to elect representatives of their choice.
To ensure that the results are not politically skewed, a map of districts must win the approval of 7 of the 10 members of the commission, including at least one Republican and one Democrat. Once adopted, the commission’s map would be official, not subject to amendment or veto by the General Assembly or the Governor.
The proposed amendment also protects against the common legislative practice of moving district lines behind closed doors and in secret meetings. The amendment dictates that the commission’s data, debates and decisions must be open and transparent. It requires public hearings around the state before the maps are drawn and after they are drawn but not adopted.
Slaying the gerrymander has been an uphill fight, as no one gives up power easily. But the uncertainty of which party will be in power in 2021 may change the political calculation this session. Both parties gerrymander, and the Republicans who have previously blocked reform may see the blue wave elections of 2017 and 2018 as evidence that the tables are turning. This constitutional amendment should look like insurance against being at the Democrats’ mercy in the next redistricting.
Further details of the proposed amendment and the membership of the committee are available here.
Brian Cannon, Executive Director, OneVirginia2021, (804)240-9933, @1VA2021, https://www.onevirginia2021.org/
League of Women Voters
of the Charlottesville Area
PO Box 2786
Charlottesville, VA 22902
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