Co-chair LWV-VA Redistricting Committee
In the next 3 months, the Virginia General Assembly will have the opportunity to take a huge step towards ending gerrymandering in the Commonwealth. We are very close!
Gerrymandering rigs the system. It robs the citizens of fair representation. It allows legislators to draw maps to protect their own seats. It allows them to choose their voters, rather than the voters choosing their representatives. Gerrymandering is voter suppression and must end now.
In 2019, the General Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution 306, a constitutional amendment*, with strong bipartisan support. The General Assembly must pass the constitutional amendment once again, in its entirety, with nary a comma nor word substituted or deleted, in the 2020 session before it comes to the voters for approval in November 2020. Once Virginia voters approve the constitutional amendment at the polls, it will set the stage for the drawing of fair maps in 2021 after the 2020 census. According to the recent Wason Center Poll conducted by Christopher Newport University, 70% of Virginians support passing the constitutional amendment a second time.
The constitutional amendment may not be perfect; few, if any, bills or amendments are. However, there are many important features that merit our approval:
- For the first time, citizens will serve on the commission that draws the maps. Eight members of the sixteen-member commission will be non-politicians. One of the citizen-members will serve as the commission chair. A super-majority of at least 6 (of 8) citizen members plus 6 (of 8) legislator members must approve the maps that are drawn.
- For the first time, transparency will be required of the commission and its decisions. Redistricting decisions will be brought out into the light, not hidden away in dark, secret backrooms. All meetings shall be open to the public, and at least three public hearings must be held in different parts of the Commonwealth. All records, documents, and internal and external communications shall be available to the public.
- The maps drawn by the commission will be submitted to the General Assembly, which will vote “yea” or “nay”; the General Assembly may not amend the maps.
Criteria contained in the amendment include “contiguous and compact territory” and “representation in proportion to the population of the district”. Maps must be “drawn in accordance with the requirements of federal and state laws that address racial and ethnic fairness, including the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment … and provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” The maps shall provide “opportunities for racial and ethnic communities to elect candidates of their choice.” (note: bolded quotations are the new language that would be added to Article II, Section 6, of the Virginia Constitution). These requirements will be protected and enshrined in the Constitution and cannot be easily changed when political leadership changes.
Enabling legislation that clearly defines the criteria is necessary. The League of Women Voters of Virginia supports criteria legislation that:
- Requires maps that:
- respect geographic and jurisdictional boundaries, as well as communities of interest;
- result in competitive elections;
- do not favor one political party over another; and
- protect the voting strength of minority groups;
- Establishes criteria for selecting the citizen commissioners, including the representation that reflects the diversity in our Commonwealth;
- Directs the Supreme Court of Virginia to appoint a qualified special master to draw the maps, should the Commission and the General Assembly fail to draw and approve maps.
We are heading in the right direction. The eyes of the nation are on Virginia. Respected voices have expressed support for the Constitutional Amendment, including Michael Li of the Brennan Center, Common Cause, author David Daley, and Senator Tim Kaine.
There are legislators who are getting “cold feet” and walking back from their previous support of fair maps. Some seem tempted to keep their newly-gained power for themselves. They want voters to “trust” them to draw the maps. We do not support backing away from the constitutional amendment passed last session.
The time is NOW. Virginia is ready to show the nation what fair redistricting can look like. We need YOU to contact your legislators and urge them to support the Constitutional Amendment – and pass strong enabling legislation. Fair elections are under threat, and all of us are needed at this moment in history.
- Many local Leagues have organized pre-session forums, and many of your legislators are scheduling their own town halls. Plan to attend and let your voice be heard! You can find a list of town halls here.
- Contact your lawmakers via email, phone calls, or postcards. Let them know that you support People-Powered Fair Maps© and that you want them to support this Constitutional Amendment when the General Assembly reconvenes in January 2020.
- A very easy way to send an email is via the LWV-Virginia’s action alert: Just click here.
Thank you for helping to make People-Powered Fair Maps© a reality in Virginia!
*A summary of the Constitutional Amendment can be found on the One Virginia 2021 website.