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Governor Northam’s chance to improve redistricting reform in Virginia

April 8th, 2020, 10:49am by Aaron Barden

In Virginia, Governor Northam has a chance to add protections for minorities in redistricting reform. This comes thanks to an unusual provision in the legislative process there, the veto session.

In November, Virginia voters will vote on a constitutional amendment to give part of the redistricting power to citizens. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s one-page summaries of the amendment’s minority protections, commission process, and transparency requirements (which supplement our February 2020 report) describe some missing components: added protections for minorities and political parties. These protections require enabling legislation, which the General Assembly had the power to pass, but didn’t before the end of their legislative session.

Governor Northam still has the power to compel a vote on this enabling legislation’s key provisions. Now presented with bills for his signature, he can also send them back modified for consideration by the General Assembly, in a take-it-or-leave-it process known as a veto session. This veto session provides one last shot at adding protections to strengthen the reform.

The first one-pager clarifies that the amendment (SJ18) does protect minority communities, on its own and without enabling legislation, through standalone Voting Rights Act language. The latter two discuss how the enabling legislation (SB203/HB758), which died in Conference Committee, would have built upon the amendment’s provisions and offer suggestions for further improvements.

Key protections that will strengthen SJ18 were in the enabling legislation, which is no longer on the table. However, the Governor can amend the criteria bill that passed (SB717/HB1255) to add key missing pieces from the enabling legislation to the criteria bill. That amended version of the criteria bill, with the enabling provisions added in, would then go to the veto session of the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote.

No matter what, having passed the General Assembly, the reform amendment will now go before the voters in November, the supermajority of whom support it, according to a Wason Center poll in December 2019.

Tags: Redistricting

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