Virginia’s state senate last week unanimously approved a constitutional amendment that, if ratified, would remove unfair partisan advantage from the state’s congressional and legislative map drawing process. The amendment, SJ306, would create an advisory commission to draft maps and establish state-level protections for communities of color.
Under the current state constitution, Virginia lawmakers draw both congressional and state legislative maps with minimal rules. That system gives whichever party holds a legislative majority the ability to draw districts that lock in partisan advantage. In the past, federal courts have struck down Virginia’s maps because the legislature drew them with unconstitutional racial motives.
“Redistricting reform has long enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support among voters. It’s encouraging to see Virginia’s lawmakers follow suit,” said Yurij Rudensky, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. “This amendment is an important first step for Virginia. It does not address all aspects of the redistricting process, but it is a strong start and hopefully other details can be fleshed out through legislation.”
SJ306 would create a 16-member advisory commission comprised of politicians and citizens to help draw congressional and state legislative plans. Twelve members would be evenly split between the two parties, while the remaining four would be unaffiliated. The proposal also adds an additional safeguard to the map-drawing process, protecting at the state level the ability of communities of color to elect candidates under provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
SJ306 now moves on to the Virginia House of Delegates. If passed, the amendment will need legislative approval once again next session and ratification by the voters before becoming law.