Democrats Are Committed to Fair Redistricting But Differ on How Best to Handle it

By Matt Blair

January 22, 2020

There’s a new approach on how to determine future districts fairly in the Commonwealth.

Virginia Democrats have long maintained that Republicans gerrymandered the state’s districts in their favor in elections. Now that they are in control of the General Assembly, fair redistricting is a priority for the party. 

Some have falsely claimed recently that Democrats are changing the rules so they can hold power forever. Below we help dispel that myth by explaining the two approaches Democrats are considering when it comes to redistricting. Which one the party will ultimately favor is currently unclear. 

The first proposal is to continue pursuing a constitutional amendment to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission meant to curb gerrymandering in the state. This measure was approved with bi-partisan support by the General Assembly last February but would need to be approved again this current session to be added to Virginia’s Constitution. 

Some Democrats now say that commission doesn’t go far enough to deal with the issue. Under that approach, if the maps proposed by the committee don’t win the legislators’ approval, they will be sent to state Supreme Court to decide. Critics are concerned the court members, who were primarily chosen by Republicans, will routinely take a conservative position.

As an alternative, Del. Cia Price proposed a different approach earlier this month. Under her proposal, any undecided issues would be handled by a bipartisan group comprised of General Assembly members, instead of the state Supreme Court. It would be made up of four Democrats, four Republicans, and three unaffiliated members who are representative of “the geographic, racial, and gender diversity” of the state.

Under Price’s proposal, lawmakers would use the model laid out in her legislation in the scheduled 2021 redistricting process until a more far-reaching model could be adopted. While Price’s proposal has been backed by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee led by former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, some members of her party say that they need to pass the Constitutional amendment now and then address the issues further down the line through legislation.

It isn’t clear which approach the party will ultimately pursue. Two of the most prominent Democratic voices, Gov. Ralph Northam and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn have maintained the importance of redistricting but have yet to fully endorsed either approach.

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