Redistricting Reform May Divide Virginia's New Democratic Majority

Jan 14, 2020

Credit MBandman / Creative Commons

Democrats may have taken control of the General Assembly, but that doesn’t mean they are all in agreement about how to handle several of the most-pressing issues.

When Republicans were in power last year, they struck a deal with Democrats on a constitutional amendment to create a bipartisan commission to draw maps for House and Senate districts. But now that Democrats are in charge, many are raising concerns that Republicans could veto whatever the commission comes up with and send it to a Republican-dominated Virginia Supreme Court.

Delegate Cia Price of Newport News says she and other Democrats raised concerns about the amendment last year. 

“We wanted to make sure that the diversity of the commission was in the language," Price explains. "We wanted to make sure that the drawing process of the maps that would protect communities of color and communities of interest are in the amendment.”

That’s why she’s introducing her own bill that would create a bipartisan commission she says would have all those protections. Advocates for the original amendment say lawmakers can create implementing legislation that would take care of all of that.

Brian Cannon is with a group called Virginia 2021, and he says addressing the problem with a bill rather than an amendment keeps the power of mapmaking in the hands of lawmakers. 

“The enabling legislation can tell the commission how to operate and it can tell any court that ever gets it how to operate," says Cannon. "But just a stand-alone bill can’t tell the legislature how to operate. The legislature could amend a map at any time, and this is what we would be changing in ours.”

Here’s one thing both sides agree on. Whatever process comes out of all this will be flawed, and lawmakers should come up with a better amendment in the future to handle redistricting in 2031.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.