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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)