Virginia Delegate Files Proposal to Establish Nonpartisan Redistricting Proposal

January 15, 2020 by Dan McCue

Virginia Delegate Marcia Price has introduced legislation to create an independent redistricting commission to draw new legislative lines after the 2020 census.

Delegate Price, whose district includes parts of the cities of Hampton and Newport News, said during a press conference that “redistricting reform must happen this year and it must happen in a way that leaves out no voter, no matter where they live or the color of their skin.”

Gerrymandering has long been an issue in Virginia, and last year lawmakers in both chambers threw their bipartisan support behind a constitutional amendment that would create a nonpartisan redistricting commission.

The 16-member body would have eight citizens and eight legislators, divided evenly by party.

Passing a constitutional amendment in Virginia, however, is a multistep process.

First, lawmakers need to pass the identical resolution two years in a row. Only then can the amendment go to voters for approval.

In February, the amendment passed. But round two is coming up.

In the meantime, some Democrats and civic activists have expressed concerns that the constitutional amendment does not go far enough to prevent gerrymandering and protect the black voters who have been disenfranchised historically.

“We must have fair maps and equal representation,” said Tram Nguyen of New Virginia Majority, a grassroots group that works to empower minorities.

Price said this week that she’s committed to passing redistricting reform this year, but added “there is no reform without the full and equal inclusion of communities of color.”

“This legislature has the opportunity with HB1256 to move forward boldly with redistricting reform that proactively addresses 400 years of discrimination to make sure communities of color have an equal opportunity and voice in our democracy,” she said.

Yurij Rudensky, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, said the current districting process in Virginia is both untenable and unacceptable.

“The question isn’t whether reform is necessary, but what is the right path forward,” Rudensky said. “HB1256 offers enhancements in important areas that track what we strongly believe are best practices, including public accountability, independence, and clear guidelines for drawing maps.”

Also commenting on the bill was former Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been at the forefront of redistricting reform efforts across the country.

Holder said Price’s plan “offers a viable path toward ensuring an independent redistricting commission draws the maps in 2021.

“It’s time for Virginia to ensure fairness, finally end the practice of allowing politicians in the legislature to gerrymander the maps and give power back to the people, where it belongs.”

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