The General Assembly just passed its halfway point – more commonly known as “Crossover.” We wanted to take a minute and update you on the redistricting legislation still being considered by both chambers of the legislature.
Right now, there are two proposed constitutional amendments that create commissions to redraw congressional and legislative district lines after the 2020 Census and beyond: the Senate Plan is SJ306 and the House Plan is HJ615.
We have said from the beginning that our ideal reform package would include (1) full transparency of all meetings and data, (2) an independent commission, and (3) clear rules prohibiting gerrymandering.
Both proposed amendments have elements we like and both have gaps that we would like to fill to improve them. We will continue to work with both parties in both chambers to improve each amendment according to our longstanding principles.
COMPARING THE TWO CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
When considering the merits of each redistricting reform proposal, it is important to ask two fundamental questions:
Using these standards, the Senate Plan is by far the best option – it answers the first question, though it needs explicit anti-gerrymandering language added to fully answer the second.
The Senate Plan received bipartisan support in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee and in the full Senate, where it passed with an unanimous 40-0 vote.
This plan would create a hybrid commission of both citizens and legislators (8 of each) and would signify the first time in Virginia’s history that citizens would have a significant voice in the redistricting process.
Further, all of the commission’s meetings will be fully transparent to the public, all data will be public record, and the public will be given opportunities to give input before the final maps are drawn.
And in the end, the final maps must be approved by 6 of the legislators and 6 citizens, preventing collusion among members or parties, and both the Governor and legislature are prohibited from amending the commission’s work.
In our eyes, the main problem with the Senate Plan is that it does not specifically prohibit political gerrymandering. Many times, gerrymandered lines are drawn to favor one party or the other, regardless of the incumbent. But sometimes lines are redrawn to target one specific person to specifically enhance the majority party — just ask George Allen, Ward Armstrong or James Madison. Anti-gerrymandering language would make both of these actions explicitly illegal.
By comparison, while we appreciate that the House Plan prohibits legislators from drawing their own lines and currently includes clear rules that keep communities together, we also feel that it lacks provisions that require transparency of commission meetings and language that prohibits the use of partisan data to draw the maps. Further, the process to select the members of the final commission is not nearly as rigorous and vetted as the Senate Plan, which follows the recommendation of our Citizens Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee.
Both constitutional amendments have now moved from their originating chamber to the other, and the process starts over again – from committee meetings to possible changes in the language.
If any changes are made to either constitutional amendment as they are passed, a conference committee will reconcile the differences in the bills. A conference committee will include members of both parties from both houses and will work together to resolve disagreements on the particular bills.
Once an agreement has been reached, the Conference Report is then sent to each respective house for an up or down vote. Neither chamber can make amendments. If the conference report is rejected, the conferees must return to work.
And since this is a Constitutional amendment, no signature is required from the Governor. The final version, as agreed upon, will become the vehicle for next year. It cannot be amended going forward. Then the process begins all over again in 2020 before voters can weigh in on the ballot that November.
In other words, we still have a long way to go.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
We still need your help in pushing for a substantive constitutional amendment in this year’s General Assembly session.
OneVirginia2021 is committed to passing a redistricting reform resolution this year so that the amendment can pass in time for the 2021 maps, and with your help we can make sure that any amendment that passes through both chambers includes transparency, a well-structured commission, and clear rules banning political gerrymandering.
Thank you for all of your hard work during the first half of the session. We have reached a milestone in our legislative successes to date, and that is in large part due to your ongoing advocacy and support!
With your help, we will continue the fight to end gerrymandering in Virginia once and for all.