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Time for Non-Partisan Redistricting

The Commonwealth of Virginia is rapidly approaching the day when members of the General Assembly will get to decide which of the state’s voters they want to represent. The result will dramatically impact the Commonwealth’s ability to move forward on critical issues over the next decade—and the very vibrancy of our democracy.

 

In 2011, following completion of the next Census, legislators will be asked to determine the boundaries of Virginia’s 40 Senate districts, its 100 General Assembly districts and its 11 Congressional districts. The results of the last two redistricting processes, one controlled by the Democrats, the other controlled by the Republicans, have not been pretty, as each party did its best to solidify its control of the legislature by hand-picking which voters its members would represent. By the time of the 2007 General Assembly elections, that map resulted in 17 Senate incumbents and 57 House incumbents being reelected without any opposition.

 

Partisan redistricting practices have produced an extremely polarized General Assembly whose members are not motivated to find the middle ground, creating gridlock on important issues such as the state budget and transportation improvements. That’s why a growing coalition of groups, including the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the Future of Hampton Roads, AARP and the League of Conservation Voters have joined the League of Women Voters of Virginia in calling for legislation to create a bipartisan redistricting commission to prepare the redistricting plans that the General Assembly is mandated by the Virginia Constitution to approve.

 

This approach has been adopted by a growing number of states, most recently in California where voters approved the creation of a Citizens Redistricting Commission through a referendum last November. Nevertheless, the General Assembly’s ability to even debate and discuss this kind of good-government measure has been stymied by a small number of Republican members of the House of Delegates.

 

At 7 a.m. on Monday, January 19, the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, a subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee called a meeting to kill, on a party-line vote, House bills seeking to create such a commission. As The Washington Post editorialized, “They hoped that nobody would notice their indefensible defeat of efforts to make Virginia elections fairer and more democratic.”

 

But, as The Post noted, “There is still time for those who care about good government to push for these reforms in how the state redistricts.” With the General Assembly currently divided between Democratic and Republican control, the time is particularly ripe for reform. Supporters of a redistricting commission will continue to push for the passage of a bill in the Senate, and full and open consideration of the issue in the House of Delegates.

 

The issues surrounding redistricting can seem very arcane. In a recent survey by the Christopher Newport University Center for Public Policy, the vast majority of Virginians surveyed acknowledged that they know very little about how redistricting works. Still, the survey found that nearly two-thirds of Virginians believe it is a conflict of interest for legislators to draw their own districts and a similar majority (61.3 percent) would like to see both houses of the General Assembly vote on a redistricting reform bill.

 

Help us keep the pressure on by signing the petition at www.fixthelines.org. Or call you legislator at the General Assembly.

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