The Prince William and Manassas Democratic committees are asking Democrats to vote “no” on “Constitutional Amendment 1,” while the local Republican committee is encouraging voters to vote "yes."
The amendment, which will be on ballots in November, aims to address Virginia’s history of political gerrymandering by creating an independent redistricting commission.
If the amendment is approved by voters, it will create a 16-member, bipartisan commission comprised of eight legislators from both parties and eight citizen appointees to redraw Virginia’s congressional and state legislative maps – a process that occurs once every 10 years following the U.S. Census.
The commission must create a map that receives the approval of at least 12 of its members before it would be sent to the Virginia General Assembly for a vote. If the commission can’t agree on a map, the Supreme Court of Virginia would be tasked with drawing the districts.
The amendment will also open the redistricting process by allowing the public to view commission meetings and participate in mandatory public hearings.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s 2011 legislative map and ordered the state redraw 11 gerrymandered House of Delegates districts. The court found that the Virginia General Assembly had unfairly crammed Black voters into those 11 districts, a process known as “racial gerrymandering.”
Prince William County Democratic Committee Chair Collin Robinson said the local committee opposes the constitutional amendment because it still allows politicians to take part in the redistricting process, making it a bipartisan – but not fully independent – commission.
“I don’t find a commission that has eight politicians out of 16 seats to be a very effective group for getting politics out of gerrymandering,” Robinson said.
Robinson added that the Prince William County Democratic committee supports ending gerrymandering, but said, “We want it done right.”
Prince William County Republican Committee Chair Tim Parrish said the local GOP is guiding voters “to vote ‘yes’ on amendment one.” Parrish said the party supports the proposed constitutional amendment in part because it will increase transparency over the redistricting process and include citizen input.
“Having this done in a more public way is absolutely a good thing. I think that including members of the public alongside elected officials is going to make the process much more effective and certainly much more efficient,” Parrish said.
In Fauquier County, the local Democratic Committee has not taken a position on whether local Democrats should vote for or against “Constitutional Amendment 1.” Instead, committee Chair Max Hall said the local Democratic committee is taking time to “educate voters on the amendment.”
Hall said there are some issues with the proposed commission because it doesn’t completely eliminate politics from the redistricting process. But he said that giving voters information about the referendum will let them “make an educated choice.”
The Fauquier Republican Committee is telling voters to vote “yes” on the Constitutional amendment. Committee Chair Greg Schumacher said Monday that “both parties have [gerrymandered], and it’s time to have a bipartisan, non-partisan redistricting commission.”
Schumacher said the commission “will be as free as possible from partisan redistricting from either side and gerrymandering.”
The constitutional amendment had to pass the House of Delegates two years in a row, with an election in between, to be placed on the ballot. But many of the state’s Democratic lawmakers who initially voted in favor of the amendment now oppose it, with some saying it will enshrine partisan gerrymandering into the Virginia Constitution.
The amendment garnered near unanimous support from Democrats the first time it passed in 2019, when Democrats were in the minority. The second time it passed, in 2020, Democrats had a majority in both chambers – and all but a handful of delegates flipped their votes.
Republican lawmakers have criticized members of the Democratic party for flip-flopping on redistricting reform after supporting it while in the minority.
Del. Kirk Cox, R-66th, who is mulling a run for governor in 2021, said on Twitter Monday: “Don't be distracted by those who once supported independent redistricting, but now don't. Wonder why they're having a change of heart?”
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org