Virginia took a step toward redistricting reform. With power up for grabs, will lawmakers follow through?

Virginia took a step toward redistricting reform. With power up for grabs, will lawmakers follow through?
Virginia State Capitol. (Source: Capital News Service)

Virginia is closer to passing redistricting reform than ever. But anti-gerrymandering advocate Brian Cannon says both Democrats and Republicans are whispering that the idea is doomed if their opponents get power.

“‘You know, if the other side takes over, your amendment’s done.’ They both kind of say that,” Cannon said, describing what he’s hearing in an election year with control of the General Assembly at stake.

Despite the uncertainty, Cannon, the executive director of OneVirginia2021, remains optimistic that both sides will see a benefit in giving up the legislature’s power to redraw political maps, no matter who wins enough seats in November to wield it.

“I think this thing has a high likelihood of passing,” said Cannon, whose anti-gerrymandering group has spent years urging lawmakers to create an independent redistricting commission. Critics of the existing system — which leaves map-drawing power with the General Assembly — say it gives lawmakers free rein to draw their own districts with partisan advantage and self-preservation in mind.

With Virginia scheduled to redraw its legislative and congressional districts in 2021, the General Assembly representatives voters elect in November will decide whether or not to change the system ahead of a redistricting process that will shape state politics for years to come.

In February, the legislature gave the first of required several approvals for a constitutional amendment that would create a bipartisan, 16-member commission tasked with redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional maps every 10 years, starting with the year after the 2020 census.

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