42°Partly Cloudy

Del. Ken Plum: Redistricting Reform Needed

by Del. Ken Plum September 10, 2015 at 1:00 pm 6 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a column by Ken Plum, who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

A federal court found Virginia’s congressional redistricting to be unconstitutional because it diluted the strength of minorities in elections. Essentially, the redistricting of 2011 packed black voters from Richmond to Norfolk in a single congressional district ensuring the probable election of one black representative while reducing the likelihood of another one being elected.

The court ruled on the fairness of districts related to their being numerically equal in size and in their treatment of classes of voters, but it does not take into account partisan advantages or disadvantages.

The federal court set a Sept. 1 deadline for new district lines to be drawn by the General Assembly. The Assembly was unwilling or unable to draw new lines, at least in part because any new map is likely to increase the Democrats’ chances of winning more than the 3 of 11 congressional seats they currently hold.

A special session called by Governor Terry McAuliffe to take up the issue concluded without taking action. A proposal drawn up by the Democratic minority to address the issue of fair racial representation in the Tidewater and Northern Virginia areas was not considered by the House or Senate. Based on prior voting behavior by the people in these new districts, there would likely have been five Republican, five Democrat, and one swing district. Such an outcome is reflective of how the state has been voting in statewide contests.

This is not the first time Virginia has run afoul of federal courts on the issue of redistricting. As the state grows in size with developing metropolitan areas, those who controlled the legislature have been reluctant to give up their power to the newly emerging suburban and urban areas. Virginia was one of the states in the 1964 Baker v Carr decision establishing the principle of one man, one vote. After the 1981 census, the Supreme Court threw out the redistricting three times before the legislature got it right. With the changing of district lines, I had to run for office in 1981, 1982, and 1983. The same thing could happen again this year.

The same rationale that makes the congressional districts unfair applies to the House of Delegates districts that are now being challenged in federal court. House members could have to run three years in a row just as in the early 80s if the case is successful. House of Delegates elections in 2016 in particular could be interesting as this is a presidential election year with greater voter participation.

It is human nature that political parties in power try to maintain their majorities through gerrymandering districts to their advantage. I first introduced a bill in 1982 that would have given the task over to an independent commission. Neither Democratic nor Republican majorities have been willing to pass it. Several states have such a commission, and I have continued to re-introduce the bill.

I believe it is the only way to get fair, nonpartisan redistricting done. I support OneVirginia, a group that is working for this kind of reform that needs to be put into place right away.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Independent commissions aren’t. While I have no love for gerrymandering, we need a formula or process that relies less on human discretion.

    I’ve always thought school district boundaries (of some sort) would be a good way to go. How you would go about bundling them up is a different story.

  • HP

    tick, tick, tick….just waiting for moderator to shut down comments here.

    • Henry Rearden

      That won’t happen until someone points out the hypocrisy of Ken in regards to things like his “devout faith” vs his avid support of Planned Parenthood.

  • S. Williams

    Today’s politics and politicians have become so partisan that this is an impossible task. Furthermore, politicians are not representing the people anymore. They are in it for themselves, not for the people. They represent one side or the other just to garner votes. Politicians are only politicians to make MONEY, or they are power crazy sociopaths who get off on controlling society. If the say anything different the are LIARS. The claim they are working to help the people, while only increasing their wealth. Don’t worry about stepping over the line, your corrupt fellow politician brethren will bail you out, or pardon you later. Small time local politicians are the most corrupt sociopaths.

  • Ming the Merciless

    Curse you, evil Republicans, for politicizing elections!

    Or something.

  • John Higgins

    In theory, the task of districting to achieve balanced voter populations is simple. A high school student with a census database and Google Maps could do it. However, drawing lines to achieve multiple (often conflicting) objectives produces the mess we see today. An unaccountable (I.e., independent) commission is a terrible idea, even if one could find a such a group of people that brings no bias, political or otherwise, to the table. Send the legislature back into the fight, and let us know how it turns out.


Subscribe to our mailing list