Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Creating a Transparent Redistricting Process in Virginia

By Amy Hjerstedt

The League of Women Voters of Falls Church is hosting a community forum and training Sunday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. at the City of Falls Church Community Center in the Art Room. With assistance from OneVirginia2021, there is a lot of new information to share with regard to redistricting in Virginia. This event is open to anyone who is interested in learning more about what gerrymandering is, why now is the time to advocate to lawmakers about voting for a state constitutional amendment that provides for an independent redistricting commission, and what actions community members can do before the 2019 General Assembly begins its next session.

Now is a critical time in Virginia’s future for fair districts and representation. The 2020 Census officially starts in just over twelve months. As directed by the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, every 10 years the people in our communities across the country are counted so that we know how to distribute resources and representation. The Virginia state constitution gives the authority to redistrict our state and congressional district maps to the General Assembly after data is reported from the Census Bureau.

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In 2011 state politicians drew Virginia’s current maps after the 2010 Census. These maps are highly irregular in shape, some stretching in communities that have little in common other than being in Virginia. For example, state house district 11 reaches north of Reston and travels south near Quantico Station, and this district also covers Centreville and almost touches Annandale. Other districts share similar slicing and dicing of communities and lines that twist and turn without regard to voters, local communities, or geographic boundaries.

In the last redistricting process, congressional districts and House of Delegate districts were drawn by Republicans, and State Senate districts were drawn by Democrats. Neither party did voters any favors. Instead of drawing districts that respect the geographic and political boundaries and that keep communities together, politicians in both parties drew districts to make their campaigns less competitive and easier to win for themselves and the incumbents in those districts. The result has been extreme partisanship, gridlock, suppression of voters’ voices, and a lack of competition of ideas and solutions in Richmond and in the U.S. Congress.

After the 2020 Census data is reported and is turned over to the General Assembly in 2021 the redistricting process returns to Virginia. Without a significant change to the state constitution that institutes independence from politicians, transparency, and citizen participation, the two parties will likely use the opportunity to preserve their power like they did in 2011 to make deals without regard to fair representation. And with the amount of data collected on people today and the advances in mapping and computer technology to single out intricate details down to the street and house and voter record and income earned by individuals, politicians have incredible power to distort and manipulate districts to ensure they keep their political power and prevent any future challenges.

There is hope this January when the 2019 General Assembly starts its session. In Virginia to change the state constitution, the General Assembly must pass the same exact resolution twice — in two subsequent General Assembly sessions — and then voters vote on the resolution. This process takes about 18 months. Since the next redistricting process starts in just over two years, we have no time to lose. A resolution to amend the state constitution to enact an independent redistricting commission must get introduced and passed this session otherwise we must wait another ten years before we have another opportunity to end gerrymandered voter suppression.

In August OneVirginia2021 assembled a bipartisan blue ribbon commission with the goal that the members craft a resolution that would create a redistricting process that is transparent, protects communities, and ensures that politicians are not picking their voters. This Citizens Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee unveiled its plan on Nov. 29 at a press conference in Richmond advocating for an independent redistricting commission. The criteria for their plan for drawing the maps would be transparent and open to the public, would have opportunity for the public to make comments about their community, and would prevent politicians from drawing the maps. If you are interested in learning more about the Citizens Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee, visit the Executive Summary on OneVirginia2021’s website: bit.ly/2U0I89y.

Learn more about this plan and what can be done now before the General Assembly starts its 2019 session. Join the League of Women Voters of Falls Church and OneVirginia2021 Sunday, December 9th to learn about the Citizens Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee’s plan for an independent redistricting commission and the criteria for drawing new districts that is transparent, incorporates citizen participation, protects communities, and is a fair redistricting process for all voters.

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Amy Hjerstedt is a member of the League of Women Voters Falls Church and of OneVirginia2021 Fairfax LAG. 

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