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Virginia is one step closer to having the South’s first redistricting commission

March 6th, 2020, 6:21pm by Aaron Barden


Source: Graham Moomaw, Virginia Mercury (@gmoomaw)

Following a close floor vote in the House, Virginia’s General Assembly has now passed its constitutional amendment, SJ18, creating a 16-member bipartisan, hybrid redistricting commission. As a result, this amendment will head to the voters this November to be considered as a ballot question. Huge steps towards reform in the Commonwealth!

Yesterday, Delegate Marcus Simon introduced a floor substitute to the constitutional amendment, SJ18, that would have created an eleven-member citizen commission, enshrined more criteria into the Virginia Constitution, and ensured diversity within the commission’s members. However, because of Virginia’s constitutional amendment process, changing SJ18 would have meant ending any chance at reform before the 2021 redistricting cycle.

In Virginia, a constitutional amendment must pass in two General Assembly sessions with an intervening House of Delegates election. The amendment’s language must be identical in both of these sessions. As of this morning, the original language of SJ18 had gone through parts of this process: it had passed through the General Assembly in February 2019, and there was a House of Delegates election in November 2019. Thus, SJ18 needed to pass again, language unchanged, during the current session.

Because of this requirement, the Simon substitute would not have been able to take effect until 2022 or later. Assuming it could have gotten through the Senate, it would have passed for the first time in March 2020. But the next Virginia House election is in November 2021, meaning that the substitute would be unable to pass its required second reading until the 2022 session – months after Virginia redistricts in 2021. The likely plan was for the statutory alternative, HB1256‘s, advisory commission to act as a stopgap in 2021. Then the House could have considered the substitute in the next decade, sometime after 2022. In short, the substitute would have made it so that no constitutional commission existed until 2031.

However, after many floor speeches, this substitute failed to pass by a vote of 43 yeas to 57 nays.

After the substitute failed, the full House finally considered SJ18’s original language, after weeks of delay. More floor speeches were given before the final vote on the redistricting reform amendment, which passed 54Y-46N.

This passage means that Virginia is most of the way to becoming the first Southern state with a redistricting commission that puts citizens in the room where maps are drawn. Not only that, but Virginia is now most of the way to becoming the first state without a citizen-based initiative process to pass this kind of meaningful reform. Now, the constitutional amendment heads to the voters in November for the final step in the amendment process, where it is likely to pass.

We here at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project were glad to play some small part in the process through hand-delivering our Citizen’s Guide to legislators and sending our coalition letters (National and Southern) to Speaker Filler-Corn. We will continue to be involved moving forward and hope that the amendment is successful in November!

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(Note: the enabling legislation (SB203/HB758), which bolsters SJ18, has passed both chambers of the General Assembly with bipartisan support, but due to minor language differences, they are headed to legislative conference. These must pass in their final, agreed-upon forms before Virginia’s legislative session ends sometime tomorrow.)

 

Tags: Redistricting

One Comment so far ↓

  • Joseph Bland

    Congratulations to Sam and the team! This was a hard-fought battle and I’m sure you folks were instrumental in making it happen. And may this be just the beginning of a groundswell that moves our country back to being a true representational democracy!

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