Blue Virginia has a bright banner on their web site declaring “Defeat Gerrymandering. Vote NO on Amendment #1. This statement is unbelievable, because Amendment #1 is crafted to ELIMINATE Gerrymandering! Why are Democrats now against it? Because they are in power and THEY get to draw the districts! Make no mistake, the push to defeat Amendment #1 is an attempt to allow Democrats to redraw lines based on the 2020 Census to ensure their party’s advantage for decades to come.
Every proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution has to pass two separate General Assembly sessions, with an election between the sessions. That hurdle was met when the when SJ306 was passed in 2019 and SJ18 passed in 2020; the Senate agreed to it 38-2, the House voted 54-46, when Democrats were the majority.
Some of the Democrats now decrying Amendment #1 were previously in favor of it. Democrats now say it is bad because of the following reasons:
1. It is not independent, non-partisan.
2. It dilutes Democratic voting power.
3. It disenfranchises Black and Brown communities.
4. If all Democrats favor one redistricting map, half the Republican members have to also agree. (The reverse is also true, which they don’t highlight.) In any case where 6 of 8 legislator and citizen members don’t agree, the decision goes to Virginia’s Supreme Court to draw up acceptable maps.
5. They consider the Supreme Court to be partisan (too many conservatives?)
Democrats also point to HB1255 as an anti-gerrymandering bill, making it illegal to unduly favor or disfavor any political party. They say the issue is moot as a result. This is the same party that benefited from the lawsuit redrawing 26 districts and creating the current Democrat majorities.
Here are some talking points in favor of Amendment #1.
1. “Non-partisan” as a standard for a committee is a myth. Everyone is partisan in some way or another, and whoever chooses members for a redistricting committee would surely look at age, race, voting history, etc. in determining who to appoint to a committee.
2. This amendment offers balance between the two parties. Equal numbers of members of the House and the Senate are designated as commissioners. Eight citizen commissioners are chosen as well. A selection committee will choose from four sets of at least 16 citizens for the 8 citizen members. Each party has a vested interest in putting forth names of women, minorities, rural members, etc. to demonstrate to the electorate their commitment to fairness.
3. The numbers needed to approve maps are set so that neither party can unilaterally make a decision. It is in the best interest of all that a bipartisan (not non-partisan) solution is agreed to, to avoid the “tie breaker” of going to the Virginia Supreme Court.
4. All meetings shall be open to the public. There shall also be at least 3 public hearings across the state to receive and consider public comments. All information is subject to Freedom of Information requests, as well.
5. Should the commission be unable to agree (likely to hyper partisanship), then the decision goes to the Supreme Court.
6. Democrats call into question the expertise of the Supreme Court in setting redistricting plans. Various plans and their pros and cons will have been reviewed by the Commission beforehand, so little further deliberation should be needed before a decision is rendered.