This election, Virginians are being asked whether they want the General Assembly to continue drawing legislative boundaries behind closed doors or in the full glare of the public arena. The choice is clear: It’s time for a change.
Every 10 years, Virginia — like every state in the nation — redraws its legislative and congressional districts. The population data driving the political cartography comes from the decennial U.S. Census, which should conclude this fall.
And like most states, Virginia’s redistricting process largely has taken place under the cloak of political darkness, with virtually no public input — regardless of which party controlled the state Capitol.
As we’ve stated, this secretive process lets politicians pick voters by creating serpentine districts drawn to benefit the ruling party — and not what’s best for the community. Lengthy court fights that stick taxpayers with millions of dollars in legal fees typically ensue.
Virginians can throw aside this rigged approach by supporting Amendment 1, which would shift control of the redistricting process from the General Assembly to a bipartisan commission consisting of eight legislators and eight citizens.
Commission meetings would be open to the public, and it would hold at least three public hearings in different parts of the state for citizen input. Final approval would rest with the assembly, but lawmakers couldn’t make changes. If there’s an impasse, the Supreme Court of Virginia would have the final say.
Amendment 1 isn’t a Republican or Democratic measure, but one of good government. Now that the legislature has moved from GOP to Democratic control, we call for members of both parties to embrace this much-needed change. As one Capitol friend told us, “No smoke-filled rooms is the goal.”
So we urge the General Assembly to pass legislation pending before them during the special session that would spell out the qualifications of citizen members and transparency provisions, such as details about meetings. Polls consistently show public support for the amendment.
If the measure passes, the commission’s work would begin almost immediately as redistricting will take place next year. This enabling legislation is key to successfully implementing the new process, and is before lawmakers as they negotiate budget amendments. Why wouldn’t the General Assembly want Virginia to be prepared?
Vote “yes” for Amendment 1. End partisan gerrymandering, and support accountability and transparency.
— Pamela Stallsmith