I wanted to take a moment to update you on our important work and frame it up in terms of the broader movement to end gerrymandering in our country. We play a key role in leadership in this movement, largely thanks to the hard work of people like you. I am continually learning from and inspired by what other states are doing. We are not ashamed to steal another state’s good idea to raise awareness and move the ball forward here in Virginia.
OHIO: Last night was an important win for redistricting reform in Ohio. The voters – by a 3:1 margin – approved a referendum to drastically change their gerrymandered system for the congressional maps. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s unquestionably an improvement. More broadly, this is a huge statement from the Buckeye State on the desire for reform because it was consistently high in every county. Not just red or blue counties – but all of them. For a primer on what the new system is, click here.
COMPUTERS: Way back in 2011, I had the opportunity to use redistricting software that the “big boys” use to gerrymander. This was part of a student competition to use the software for good, to try to draw lines for communities instead of incumbent politicians. It taught me and the other participants a lot and provided unique preparation to lead this amazing organization. Our team from W&M Law even won one of the competitions! If you’d like to nerd out and read the report in long form (plus some Virginia history), you can check it out here. I have the Wason Center at CNU, the League of Women Voters, AARP, VEA, and many other orgs to thank for that awesome competition. For a quick summary article on the competition, please see here.
Why am I mentioning this? Well, this next redistricting cycle is going to be democratized in a way that we can’t even fully imagine. The software that was once only used by those practicing the dark arts of gerrymandering (plus a bunch of eager students) is now going to be available to us en masse. Anyone can draw their own lines and measure them against the political lines – in real time, and the disparity will be obvious. From my 2011 experience, I promise you that we can do better for our communities.
We have a great group from Draw the Lines PA (website update coming soon) (https://drawthelinespa.org/) that is heading up the next iteration of the student competition, growing it beyond academia and into the public sphere at large. We are a key part of it here in Virginia and we are thrilled that 15 other states have expressed interest in doing the same: Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and, of course, Virginia. Draw the Lines PA in currently seeking grants to help fund access to the DistrictBuilder software and we aren’t too involved in those details, but we are taking a supporting role and getting our ducks in a row for doing a 2021 competition in Virginia. There’s no direct action you need to take on this – I’m just sharing because I find it inspiring and hope you do, too.
WHERE WE FIT IN: We are on the cusp of something big. It’s hard to see with the day-to-day tosses and turns of a movement, but the big picture looks amazing. We are over 74,000 supporters in Virginia and should be around 100,000 by the end of the year.
Thank you for pitching in during these key months leading up to our effort to amend the Virginia Constitution. Thank you for sticking with us over the years on this long battle. It’s paying off and the merry band of redistricting reform supports we had in 2014 has grown into an army of well-trained and energized activists who have put this issue at the forefront of ethics in our politics.