Question on Virginia ballot would change how we decide voter districts

Updated: Oct. 19, 2020 at 2:01 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Besides voting for president, Virginians are going to see two ballot questions, and one of them seeks to change our state Constitution.

Amendment 1 deals with how legislative maps are drawn in Virginia, meaning which areas make up which voter districts. This can have a major impact on which candidates get voted into office. Amendment 1 asks if the state Constitution should be rewritten to create a redistricting commission (which includes citizens for the first time) dedicated to redrawing the legislative districts. The commission would have four Democratic lawmakers and four Republicans, and eight regular citizens- all working together to create and agree on the boundaries.

That’s a big change from the way it is now, where only state lawmakers draw and grapple over the lines (often behind closed doors, later to be argued over on the legislative floor).

VCU political science professor Alex Keena says the change in process is a historic move.

“Many of our lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were willing to give away their power to do what is good for our democracy,” said Keena.

The redrawing process happens every 10 years after the U.S. Census, and usually drives a lot of intense debate- sometimes ending up in the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Many feel the current method leads to gerrymandering or manipulating the lines in order to favor a particular party’s candidate - depending on who is deciding the boundaries.

“The politicians are actually drawing the lines for their own districts. So, that’s when you start to see shenanigans, and then the court steps in,” said Keena.

The new commission aims to help end gerrymandering. But like many issues in politics, it’s tough to please everyone.

Supporters of Amendment 1 say the change is a step closer to fairness and better than what Virginia has been doing for decades.

“I’m reluctant to say you’d end gerrymandering forever because gerrymandering means a lot of different things to a lot of people. But it would certainly make outcomes almost certainly better than what we have right now,” he continued.

Opponents say it’s a watered-down version of a more ideal solution- a totally independent commission comprised solely of citizens, which could still hear input from all parties. Some also say the amendment doesn’t do enough to protect voters of color.

Should Amendment 1 pass, it becomes law. The process to create the new redistricting commission would begin almost immediately.

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