When Virginians submit their ballots for the November elections they will not just be voting for the president or members of Congress, they will also be deciding how the state’s redistricting system will work going forward.
Redistricting is constitutionally mandated to occur every ten years after the completion of the most recent U.S. Census.
If Amendment 1 is approved, a 16-member redistricting commission consisting of eight General Assembly members and eight citizens would be created. The legislative members would include two Senate Republicans, two Senate Democrats, two House Republicans and Two House Democrats.
The legislative commissioners are appointed by party leaders of the Senate and House, and the citizen commissioners are selected by a group of five retired circuit court judges from lists created by the party leaders of the General Assembly. The party leaders from the House and Senate are also responsible for choosing the judges from a list provided by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Each party leader gives the judges a list of 16 candidates and then two from each list are selected.
“I think it is a good idea, and the half and half split on first glance looks good, but the devil is always in the details,” said Dave Brat, former U.S. Representative for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, in an interview with The Virginia Star. “Part of the issue is always that both sides of leadership, Democrat or Republican, at the federal or state level, are guided by money in too many cases.”
Under the amendment, two legislative commissioners can kill a proposed redistricting drawing through veto. If this happens it is then up to the state Supreme Court, which is constructed of legislator’s appointees.
If Amendment 1 is not approved by voters, the current system where the General Assembly draws the state’s legislative and congressional districts, with the governor having veto power, would remain in place.
Proponents of Amendment 1 say it would bring increased transparency and fairness to the process and, ultimately, stop partisan gerrymandering.
Fair Maps VA is one organization that favors the amendment and has been using social media to urge Virginians to vote for the change.
“A yes vote on Amendment 1 in Virginia is a vote to end partisan gerrymandering,” said Brian Cannon, executive director of Fair Maps VA, in an interview with The Star. “It also would provide transparency and some clear rules to protect our communities in the [redistricting] process. It would stop politicians from the proverbial smokey backroom from rigging their election maps.”
Cannon continued: “[This commission] is balanced by party in both the citizen side and legislator side. I certainly would prefer a citizen only commission to do the lines, but our legislature doesn’t share that full agreement with us, so we have to make compromises to get it through and this is a pretty good one.”
Opponents of the amendment argue the commission selection process is flawed, deceitful and it would allow for partisan gerrymandering.
Del. Mark Levine (D-Arlington) is one of many legislators against proposed amendment change.
“The amendment claims to do one thing, but does exactly the opposite of what it claims to do,” Levine said in an interview with The Star. “It claims to be reform, it claims to actually stop gerrymandering. In fact, it enshrines gerrymandering in the Virginia Constitution. It is completely deceptive and misleading.”
Levine’s arguments against Amendment 1 focus on the stipulation that assembly party leaders get to submit lists of hand-picked citizens to the judges and that only two legislative commissioners need to veto for the state Supreme Court to take over the process, which Levin argues is politically biased.
“This is actually less fair than 140 people doing [the drawing] because, at least, when 140 legislators do it there’s 140 voices. This is just eight voices and the eight people they appoint,” Levine said.
The full amendment can be found here.
Because early voting in Virginia began on Friday, thousands of citizens have already cast their ballots with votes for or against the proposed amendment. Only time will tell which side prevails.
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