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Letter: General Assembly Dropped the Ball on Redistricting

by RestonNow.com — September 2, 2015 at 1:00 pm 14 Comments

Virginia State Capitol, RichmondThis is a letter from Dianne Blais and Lois Page of the League of Women Voters of Virginia. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Sept. 1 brought yet another reminder of the partisan rancor that too often paralyzes the Virginia General Assembly these days. Despite convening briefly for a special session in mid-August, that body failed to meet the deadline imposed by a federal court for redrawing the boundaries of the state’s 3rd Congressional District.

To briefly recap, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the General Assembly to go back to the drawing board after it found that its 2011 Congressional redistricting plan sought to pack as many African-Americans as possible into the district represented by Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Richmond. Because African-Americans now make up nearly 20 percent of the state’s population, this approach served only to dilute their potential political power in a state that has 10 other Congressional districts.

While the legal and political wrangling continues, the failure of the General Assembly to address its responsibilities will likely leave the map-drawing in the hands of the federal judiciary — a job that the League of Women Voters of Virginia (LWV-VA) suspect the judges are not eager to take on.

The LWV-VA believes that these maps are a good place to begin, because they were developed by persons seeking to adhere to the redistricting requirements embedded in the Virginia Constitution, rather than by persons seeking only to amass enough voters of the right political stripe in their districts to assure their easy re-election.

The judges DO have the opportunity to set a very positive example for all future redistricting efforts by using as their starting point the independent, bipartisan redistricting plans that were developed during the last redistricting cycle. A good redistricting plan would respect natural geographic boundaries, the boundaries of local jurisdictions and communities of interest.

If redistricting is done in a way that is fair and non-partisan, it will ultimately produce a result that permits democratic processes to flourish in our state and reflects the true political power of minorities and other ethnic groups within our increasingly diverse Commonwealth.

The court also has the opportunity to follow a key recommendation of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s bipartisan Integrity Commission. The commission recommended amending the Virginia Constitution so that future redistricting plans would always be drawn by an independent commission, rather than partisan politicians.

It was commendable that then-Gov. Bob McDonnell appointed an independent, bipartisan advisory commission, which held hearings around the state before proposing three different congressional redistricting maps. The commission also encouraged the consideration of the winning maps that emerged from a competition among Virginia college teams that year.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of using such commissions to draw the boundaries of legislative districts, we believe the current impasse provides the appeals court with a rare opportunity to demonstrate that this approach CAN actually work in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In doing so, the court can strike a blow for fairness, transparency and good government — and take an important step toward promoting a healthier democracy in our very politically polarized state.

The League of Women Voters of Virginia (LWV-VA), along with Leagues across the country continue to press for redistricting reform at the state level.  To learn more about redistricting and LWV-VA decades-long efforts to decrease gerrymandering, visit our page on the topic.  A major effort of LWV-VA is to have redistricting reform by 2021 when the next redistricting occurs.

  • Strasbaby

    how about we combine the voting district issue with the voter id issue and have a more legitimate system? Drawing lines on a map wont matter if people can show up to any poll they want and claim to be someone else.

  • Ming the Merciless

    TL;DR

    Short version — “MOAR DEMOCRATS”

    • Henry Rearden

      You mean “More people that will vote the way we tell them to, as long as they stay on the government plantation”

      • Ming the Merciless

        Same thing — and “MOAR DEMOCRATS” is more concise.

        • Henry Rearden

          My apologies good sir, I concede you are correct in your assessment.

  • Ming the Merciless

    Well, no. Splitting the minorities, rather than herding them, so that there were ZERO African-American representatives in Virginia would certainly be possible, and “more racist” if the assumption is that only African-Americans can represent African-Americans and the election of anyone else is racist.

  • Henry Rearden

    Glad you feel that way Mike, lets start by taking the worst of the worst from the Title-1 schools and place them in the classroom your children attend. You don’t want to be racist, do you?

    • Mike M

      Non sequitur.

      • Henry Rearden

        So you feel it’s OK to redistrict all the poor minorities and put them in a few schools and not let them be fully assimilated and distributed among all the schools in the county?

        Why do you want to keep these poor children down? Is it because you’re afraid they’ll bring down test scores? Sling drugs? Get into fights? Keep your children from a quality education?

        • Mike M

          I would use the factors cited in the article and let the chips fall where they may.

  • Ming the Merciless

    You may think that “color doesn’t matter” but the Democrats and the African-Americans obviously do not think that.

    • Mike M

      Indeed. They are race obsessed. And promote division.

  • John Higgins

    Independent commission appointed by the governor? I’m suppressing a chuckle.

    The constitutional question is interesting. The U.S. constitution calls for the legislature of each state to draw these district lines. The words could not be clearer. In a voter initiative in Arizona, the good people of that state, tired of their legislature’s gamesmanship, took matters in hand and approved creation of such a commission.

    In a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, the noble court determined that the word “legislature” didn’t really mean what everyone had believed it to mean for 200 years. They tell us that in a state that permits enacting laws by voter initiative, the people become the legislature. The dissenting opinions are rather amusing as they mock the contorted logic required to arrive at the majority’s position.

    Unless I missed it, Virginia voters have not approved such an initiative, so we look to the courts to re-draw the lines. Why that’s important, and why the governor’s desire to follow Arizona down that slope is such a bad idea, is that judicial actions like this are reviewable. (The Supreme Court told the Arizona legislature that they were stuck with whatever this unelected, unaccountable commission came up with.) If you think things are bad now, when openly partisan actions get thrown into the courts, imagine the situation where these “independent” commissioners draw districts that can’t even be challenged. The LWV does good work, but they are sadly off the mark if the commission approach is their solution.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Independent commissions aren’t. Wherever political influence can be asserted, it will be.

    I suggest that we set a certain minimum and maximum number of registered voters per district and then require districts to be drawn along school district boundaries.

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