Virginia Democratic Party urges voters to defeat redistricting reform amendment

Virginia Democratic Party urges voters to defeat redistricting reform amendment
The sun rises over the Virginia Capitol. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The Democratic Party of Virginia is officially urging voters to oppose a proposed constitutional amendment to create a bipartisan redistricting commission that, if approved in November, would redraw the state’s political maps starting in 2021.

The proposal —  the compromise product of years’ worth of anti-gerrymandering advocacy — caused a major split among Democrats in this year’s legislative session, with most Senate Democrats strongly supporting it and most House Democrats adamantly opposed. Nine House Democrats joined with 45 Republicans to pass the amendment and send it to voters in a November ballot referendum.

The party’s resolution — adopted at its virtual convention over the weekend — is the strongest sign yet of how sharply many Democrats have shifted course after their elected legislators overwhelmingly supported the same proposal in 2019. That was before they took control of the General Assembly, winning the power to redraw the maps themselves under the state’s existing redistricting system.

Democratic participants in the convention adopted the resolution in a package of policy positions approved by a 1469-233 vote. 

The text echoes criticisms Democratic opponents leveled against the measure earlier this year, saying it leaves Republican minorities and conservative judges on the Supreme Court of Virginia with too much power to draw maps that don’t reflect Virginia’s political preferences.

If the commission is approved and the state ends up with Republican-friendly congressional and legislative maps, the resolution says, it could mean " the loss of the Democratic the majority in the House of Delegates as early as 2021 and the Senate by 2023″ and potentially leave Democrats “unable to retake the majority in either body despite representing a substantial and growing majority of Virginia’s population.” 

Sens. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Lousie Lucas, D-Portsmouth, two senior Democrats who partnered with redistricting reform group OneVirginia2021 to get the proposal through the legislature, condemned their party’s vote but called it a “minor setback.”

“We are profoundly disappointed that some members of the DPVA would choose to push a resolution against an amendment that would end racial, partisan and prison gerrymandering in Virginia once and for all,” the senators said in a statement distributed by OneVirginia2021. “Democrats have been at the forefront of this fight for many years, this flies in the face of our longtime commitment to fairer electoral maps.”

The Republican Party of Virginia concurred, in slightly stronger terms.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.