CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Question one – a proposed constitutional amendment – is on ballots across the commonwealth. Supporters of the amendment say it will end gerrymandering as we know it, but opponents say it doesn’t go far enough.
For groups like the League of Women Voters of Virginia, the fight for redistricting reform has been decades in the making.
“When we started, people didn’t know what gerrymandering was.” Deb Wake, the president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia said. “Our first position on redistricting was formed in 1983. It was updated in 2007, and here we are.”
If passed, the amendment would create a 16-person redistricting commission. That commission would be made up of four Democrats and four Republicans from the General Assembly, two from each party from both the House of Delegates and the Senate. The other eight commission members would be citizens selected by a board of retired circuit court judges.
After deciding on a redistricting plan, the commissions' final recommendations would then be sent to the General Assembly for approval. If not passed, redistricting would fall to the Supreme Court of Virginia.
“I’ve read it pretty carefully. It is complicated," UVA Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato said. “Will this end up helping the Democrats? Will it end up helping the Republicans? Will there be a neutral political effect? No one knows. We won’t know until we go through it.”
The amendment is one that initially found bipartisan support in the General Assembly. In 2019, it passed through the House of Delegates by a tally of 83 votes to 15.
“Last year, when no one knew who would be in charge, both parties came together and passed the bill,” 58th District Delegate Rob Bell explained. “Like most compromises, it has things that some people like and other people don’t like.”
However, just one year later in the 2020 regular session, only nine delegates from the newly-elected Democratic majority voted for the bill. 57th District Delegate Sally Hudson was one of them.
“Once this amendment is on the books, the only step forward will be that fully independent commission with all of the protections that we want for everybody," Hudson explained.
Recently, opponents of the amendment have begun a campaign urging people to vote “No,” on Question One. Most Democrats in the General Assembly, including the vast majority of Black Caucus members, specifically cite concerns over the independence of the body. They also fear that there are not enough protections for, and guarantees of, Black voices in the process. Hudson agrees those are valid concerns, but she says the pass to those protections passes through this amendment.
“If what you want is an independent commission with requirements for diversity, and then I do too, but there’s no bubble you can fill this fall that puts that in the constitution,” Hudson explained. "If we want to go that next step, then that work awaits us whether or not this amendment passes.”
Long-time supporters of redistricting reform agree, this opportunity is too good to let slip away.
“This is a huge step in remedying that current situation,” Deb Wake said. "Which is what we’ll get if it doesn’t pass, we’ll have the same system we always have.”
Addressing the concerns about representation on the board – and making the commission completely independent of the legislature – would likely take another constitutional amendment.