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Will Virginia legislators put teeth in redistricting reform?

February 3rd, 2020, 6:18am by Aaron Barden

In 1789, Virginia was the site of the first gerrymander – even before the word “gerrymander” was coined. Now the Virginia General Assembly has a chance to take a big step toward doing away with gerrymanders entirely. Whether they do depends some complex negotiations taking place this week. Based on the Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s detailed look at all the bills, those negotiations have the potential to turn out very well indeed.

First, some background (it’s all in our new report!). The main route to reform is a state constitutional amendment. The amendment already passed once in 2019, at a time when Republicans realized they might lose their majorities. According to Virginia law, the G.A. has to pass the amendment one more time before it can go to voters for final approval this November. The General Assembly is considering the amendment this week.

The amendment covers some key basics. It shares the redistricting power between legislator-commissioners and citizen-commissioners. For plans to pass a supermajority is required, and members of both parties must approve. Those are great! However, the amendment doesn’t list standards that the commission must meet.

This week, the General Assembly has a chance to lay down those standards. The chart above summarizes all the bills introduced to supplement the constitutional amendment. (A few bills are designed to replace the amendment in case it doesn’t pass.) The bills cover key provisions, like making sure communities of interest (racial, ethnic, other) get represented, and preventing undue favor to any political party.

We think some provisions are especially important. For example, having a public website and public hearings (Delegate Price’s HB1256 calls for 13 hearings!). An essential provision is public data release, which will help watchdog and reform organizations monitor the process. We already maintain such data at…but imagine if we didn’t have to dig it out, like we did last year. A public-data requirement passed into law here in New Jersey just last month.

On top of all this, we’d love to see a rule that requires the commission to make its draft maps publicly available in digital form at the end of every day. If that were added, it would boost citizen power enormously.

This week would be a great time for Virginians to tell legislators to vote for the redistricting reform amendment- and to pass enabling legislation. Call your delegate and state senator!

Tags: Redistricting

One Comment so far ↓

  • William Heaps

    Thank you so much for this. I have used Princeton data to help allocate my contributions for a good long time now. I want to point out that presidential election models show that it is very difficult for Trump to win reelection if he loses Florida. Florida continues to be on the razors edge. Money contributed to the Democratic Party of Florida helps increase voter registration and get out the vote efforts. Money to help turn Florida blue is money well spent.

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