A House of Delegates committee chose not to vote Friday on a proposal to add a bipartisan redistricting commission to the Virginia Constitution, leaving a key campaign issue in limbo with just a week left in the session.
Del. Joseph Lindsey, D-Norfolk, the chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, said Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration is working on a new legislative proposal that could be heard Monday along with the constitutional amendment.
Lindsey revealed the new option at the final regularly scheduled meeting of his committee, which had already refused to take up the constitutional amendment earlier in the session.
“We will absolutely be meeting on Monday. Because I want to put this to bed,” Lindsey said.
The outcome of the redistricting reform discussion could shape politics for years to come. Republicans are expected to lose some ground due to demographic changes when congressional and General Assembly districts are redrawn next year using new census data. But if Democrats fully control a process that allows the majority party to lock in partisan advantages, they could pass maps that push Republicans even deeper into minority status.
Last year, the General Assembly passed a bipartisan compromise to create a 16-member redistricting commission made up of both legislators and citizen members, with equal representation from the two major parties. In order to be put in the Constitution, the amendment has to pass again this year in the exact same form and be approved by voters in a ballot referendum this fall. The amendment has to be approved this year in order to be in place for the 2021 redistricting.
But some House Democrats, including Lindsey, have raised concerns about the amendment, saying it doesn’t include explicit language ensuring black representation on the commission and protecting the voting power of communities of color. The House passed an alternative proposal to create a commission through normal legislation, which gives the legislature more power to fine-tune the details and correct any perceived flaws.
Without a constitutional amendment, that approach would create a non-binding, advisory commission, leaving the Democratic-controlled General Assembly with the legal authority to draw the maps.
Supporters of the amendment have said changing the Constitution is the only way to structurally limit the General Assembly’s power to gerrymander.
Northam — who like many Democrats made redistricting reform a key promise his 2017 gubernatorial campaign — has not taken a clear position on the constitutional amendment, but he has echoed some of the criticisms made by House Democrats.
It wasn’t immediately clear what the governor is working on.
“Given the increasing possibility of legislative deadlock, he is reviewing all options to ensure a new, transparent process is in place for the 2021 redistricting,” Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in a written statement Friday morning. “Those options include personally engaging with legislators to reach a solution, sending a bill down, or calling a special session. He has had conversations with a number of members of the General Assembly in both chambers, but has not committed to any specific action or timeline at this point.”
Lindsey said his comments were based on a direct conversation with Northam.
“I spoke to him personally last night,” Lindsey said. “As a matter of comity we will hear consideration for what they’re trying to craft.”
Lindsey said Northam was working on a “boots and suspenders approach,” an apparent combination of the constitutional amendment and the competing House bill sponsored by Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News.
This article is provided courtesy of The Virginia Mercury.