Don’t Backtrack On Redistricting

All 140 members of the Virginia General Assembly are up for election next Tuesday, Nov. 5. Republicans hold narrow majorities in both the Senate and House of Delegates but that could change with the results of next week’s elections. Regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats emerge as the majority party, however, we urge the electoral victors to stay on the path to redistricting reform.

Legislation passed in the 2019 session to set up a nonpartisan commission to redraw the boundaries of legislative districts when this decennial task is performed. Because this change necessitates an amendment to the state constitution, the measure must also be passed by legislators in the upcoming 2020 session, and then the question would be put to voters in a statewide referendum a year from now.

If voters approve, the ages-old practice of gerrymandering – allowing the party in power to redraw legislative districts to their own partisan advantage – would come to an end in Virginia. This would be a historic triumph for representative democracy. The importance of such an action cannot be overstated.

Both parties have been guilty of gerrymandering. Democrats, in firm control of the General Assembly from the Reconstruction era until the late 20th Century, routinely redrew district lines to enhance their partisan advantage. Then-minority Republicans complained about the unfairness of the practice and pleaded for nonpartisan redistricting.

However, when Republicans became the majority party around the turn of the 21st Century, they found that they too enjoyed this perk of power. As the minority party for the first time in a century, Democrats learned what it’s like to be on the outside looking in while partisan power is utilized for a dubious purpose. With advances in mapping technology, gerrymandering became an evermore-precise practice in the exercise of raw political power.

Hopefully, this corrupt practice ends with the decennial redistricting of 2021. Because near-parity was reached in the balance of power following the most recent General Assembly elections, members of both parties found it to be in their own best interests to finally embrace redistricting reform.

Let’s hope that members of the majority party – whichever one that might be following next week’s elections – hold the line and continue to support a state constitutional amendment to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission. By doing this, we can consign to the dustbins of Virginia’s history the decidedly undemocratic practice of gerrymandering.

The News-Gazette

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Lexington, VA 24450
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