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A Bipartisan Win for Redistricting Reform in Virginia

With a strong bipartisan vote, lawmakers have agreed to a create a fairer process for drawing the state’s election maps.

February 26, 2019

Virginia lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a proposal on Saturday to create a commission to draw legislative and congressional maps, with tallies of 83–15 and 40–0 in the state House and Senate, respectively. If enacted, the proposed constitutional amendment would transform the troubled process for drawing the state’s legislative and congressional maps.

“This is an important step forward for Virginia,” said Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “It shows that there is huge support across the political spectrum for addressing the redistricting abuses in the state that contributed to racial and partisan gerrymandering.”

Currently, Virginia’s General Assembly oversees redistricting in the state. The maps that Virginia drew after the 2010 Census were considered some of the most heavily gerrymandered in the country on both the congressional and state levels, though litigation has since led to some improvements. Analyses by the Brennan Center and others show that gerrymandering can be manipulated for partisan gain and to marginalize communities of color.

SJ306, the amendment that passed on Saturday, proposes creating a 16-member advisory commission that would include a mix of citizen members and lawmakers. In order for a map to be approved, it must receive the support of a bipartisan supermajority that includes both lawmakers and citizen commission members.

All of Virginia’s 11 Congressional districts, 100 House of Delegates districts, and 40 Virginia Senate districts will be redrawn in 2021, after the 2020 Census. Nearly three-quarters of Virginia survey respondents support putting an independent redistricting commission in charge of drawing the state’s political districts. This is consistent with broader polling trends across the country which indicate strong opposition to partisan gerrymandering.

If Virginia wants to establish the commission by 2021, the proposed amendment must pass again in the 2020 session of the General Assembly. If that happens, the amendment would appear on the ballot as a referendum during the November 2020 election.

(Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty)