LAST year, after nearly a decade of battling in court over Republican gerrymandering following the 2010 Census, the Virginia General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment that creates the Virginia Redistricting Commission. This commission would, as far as humanly possible, take the politics out of the process of drawing new legislative and congressional districts.
After a conference committee agreed to number of changes in the original bill (HJ 615) introduced by Del. Mark Cole, R–Spotsylvania, the proposed constitutional amendment was passed by a wide 83–15 margin in the House and unanimously by the Senate last February. That’s about as bipartisan as it gets.
The 16-member independent commission would consist of eight citizens selected by five retired circuit court judges, and eight legislators: two Republicans and two Democrats from the state Senate and two legislators of each party from the House of Delegates. After receiving the results of the 2020 Census, commissioners would submit their redistricting plan to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote with no alterations by either legislators or the governor allowed. If the plan is voted down or vetoed, the Supreme Court of Virginia would then be tasked with drawing up the new districts.
A proposed constitutional amendment must be passed by two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly and then put to voters on the ballot the following November before it goes into effect. Passing the same amendment this session that members of the General Assembly overwhelming approved last session should be a no-brainer.
However, now that they are in the majority in Richmond, some Democrats are getting cold feet about giving up the power to gerrymander legislative and congressional districts to their own political advantage—the very thing they accused Republicans of doing.
Last month, Bobby Vassar, a Democrat, former chief counsel to U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D–3rd District, and a board member of OneVirginia2021, wrote: “If this amendment were to pass again in 2020, it would be the most comprehensive redistricting legislation that has ever passed through a state legislature. Period. This is incredibly significant, which is why it is particularly disheartening to see some Virginia Democrats reconsidering their votes or positions on it.”
Disheartening indeed. It would also be hypocritical in the extreme if newly empowered Democrats in Richmond refuse to pass the same amendment the second time around so they can indulge in gerrymandering themselves.
As we said last year in support of the Virginia Redistricting Commission: “A legislative seat is supposed to be the hard-won result of a public clash of competing ideas, not a sinecure. A party that has to rely on gerrymandering to win is a party that doesn’t deserve to.”
And that goes for Democrats as well as Republicans.