The Virginia General Assembly voted Saturday to overhaul the way legislative and congressional maps are drawn. Lawmakers approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a non-partisan commission to administer the process.
Supporters said the plan was the “first crucial step toward truly reforming the way Virginia draws its legislative districts, including citizens in the redistricting process for the first time and correcting the hyperpartisan process of the past.”
The measure passed unanimously in the Senate but some black lawmakers in the House opposed it, saying it would reduce the influence of African-American voters.
“Although this bipartisan plan does not reflect every provision we urged in our original proposal, make no mistake: This reform will end partisan gerrymandering in Virginia,” said Brian Cannon, executive director of the reform group OneVirginia2021. “We are particularly gratified that the General Assembly adopted language that requires the commission to do its work in full public view with open data so we can all be watchdogs on this process.”
Worked out by a conference committee, the measure would amend the Virginia Constitution to reform the way districts are drawn after the 2020 Census and beyond. The compromise shares substantive provisions from the House plan, Senate plan and SJ274, a bipartisan proposal drafted with the help of OneVirginia2021’s Citizens Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee.
Here are key elements in the reform passed by the House of Delegates and the Senate on Saturday:
- Establishes a Redistricting Commission of 8 legislators and 8 citizens, with a citizen serving as chair
- Requires full transparency of all meetings, minutes and data
- Includes specific protections for minority communities
- Includes impartial review in the selection of citizen members of the commission
- Excludes unelected congressional or General Assembly employees from the commission
- Guards against partisan gerrymandering by requiring a supermajority of commissioners for approval of district maps
- Provides the General Assembly only up-or-down votes on the commission’s maps, without amendments
- Provides that only the House votes on House maps and only the Senate votes on Senate maps. Both houses vote on Congressional district maps
- Excludes the Governor from the approval process, which would throw off the balance created by the above framework
“After five years of grassroots advocacy, bipartisan lawmaker outreach and countless volunteer hours, substantive redistricting reform has finally been agreed upon with bipartisan support by the General Assembly,” Cannon said. “This leap forward is due in no small part to the dedication of our volunteer leaders, boards, staff and nearly 100,000 supporters across the Commonwealth.”
“On behalf of the boards of OneVirginia2021, I would also thank the members of the Conference Committee and the House and Senate leadership for their willingness to provide a clear and concise road map for improving how Virginia draws its legislative districts,” Cannon said.
“Looking ahead, OneVirginia2021 will work to ensure this reform is passed again by the 2020 General Assembly and then wins Virginia voters’ approval in a statewide referendum in November 2020,” Cannon said. “We still have a long way to go, but the bipartisan success in this session makes us more determined than ever to end partisan gerrymandering in Virginia once and for all.”