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RICHMOND, Sept. 14 – A group of citizens from across Virginia asked the Richmond Circuit Court today to declare that the General Assembly districts in which they live – misshapen and rigged to benefit one candidate over another – violate the state Constitution’s requirement that election districts must be compact.
Backed by the non-partisan redistricting reform group OneVirginia2021, the lawsuit argues that principles in the Virginia Constitution must be given priority over such political considerations as a district’s tendency to support one party or the other in previous elections, or whether the incumbent likes the boundaries.
Article II, Section 6, of the Virginia Constitution commands: “Every election district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory.”
“The General Assembly unlawfully and unnecessarily subordinated compactness to policy considerations that lack constitutional authority,” the lawsuit says, referring to the legislature’s drawing of the political map in 2011. “In striving to protect incumbents and gain partisan advantage, the constitutional requirement that every district be compact was rarely, if ever, considered.”
That harms the plaintiffs by taking away their constitutional right to live and vote in a compact legislative district, the lawsuit argues.
“Like the other two requirements in the state Constitution – equal population and contiguity – compactness can be measured and held to a reasonable standard,” said Brian Cannon, executive director of OneVirginia2021. “Far from having a standard, the legislature effectively ignored the Constitution on this point, and gave us distorted, weirdly shaped districts that break up communities and rig elections by depriving voters of meaningful competition.”
The lawsuit doesn’t ask to block the upcoming election on Nov. 3, but if it eventually succeeds, it would have the court bar future General Assembly elections until the political map is redrawn to comply with the Constitution’s compactness requirement.
“The suit is not aimed at any member of the General Assembly,” Cannon said, “but at the unconstitutional process and the unfair results.” Defendants are the Virginia State Board of Elections and its officers.
The lead attorney in the suit is Wyatt B. Durrette Jr., a respected trial lawyer and former Republican candidate for governor.
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