Thank goodness: The constitutional amendment passed! #gerrymandering
Nancy Morgan, American Promise
This is the last day of session and yesterday evening the constitutional amendment finally passed! We all agree that it is not perfect but it is an important step forward.
Another informative article can be found in the Roanoke Times.
Democratic Majority in Virginia Strips Itself of the Power to Draw District Lines
The State Legislature, controlled by Democrats, voted to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would let an independent commission draw district maps.
WASHINGTON — Democrats in Virginia’s State Legislature took a blue-moon political step on Friday and voted to largely strip themselves of the power to draw new political maps next year — maps that could well have locked them into power for a decade. But to say they acted grudgingly is an understatement.
The State House of Delegates voted 54 to 46 to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would establish an independent commission to draw maps in 2021, when population totals from this year’s census will form the basis for redistricting. Separate legislation laying out rules for the panel and its actions was sent to a conference committee and seems certain to be approved later.
Nine Democrats, who hold 55 seats in the 100-seat House, voted in favor of the amendment and 46 opposed it. Only support from the Republican minority ensured that the measure would go to the voters, who are expected to approve it.
That was a marked change from last year’s bipartisanship, when the Legislature approved an identical version of the proposed amendment, the first move in a two-vote process needed to place such measures on the ballot. At the time, Democrats were in the minority in the House, and the amendment passed with overwhelming support from both parties, 85 to 13. Republicans controlled both houses of the Legislature but were widely expected to lose power, which they did, in November.
Many Democrats had made campaign promises to support the amendment on its second vote, and they were under intense pressure to make good on the pledge. The State Senate had earlier voted, 38-2, in favor of the proposed amendment. But passage in the House was uncertain until the final hours, as African-American Democrats raised questions about protections for minority districts and as others simply appeared to get cold feet.
“All of a sudden, the deal that an overwhelming majority of Democrats were willing to sign on to and campaign for in the fall of 2019 is no longer good enough,” said David Daley, an author and senior fellow at the advocacy group FairVote who supported the measure.
Advocates of the amendment nevertheless called its passage a seminal moment. “This is historic for Virginia to take a step forward on changing our broken redistricting system,” said Brian Cannon, the executive director of OneVirginia, a grass-roots group that drove the amendment campaign. “It puts citizens at the table with legislators for the first time ever. It takes it out of the smoky back room and adds sunlight and transparency.”
The proposed amendment creates a 16-member redistricting body composed of eight legislators — four each from the two major parties — and eight citizens. Disputes over boundaries would be settled by a court-appointed special master. If approved by voters, it also would enshrine specific voting-rights protection for minorities into the State Constitution for the first time.
Democrats nationally have sought to capture the high ground on the question of gerrymandering in recent years, as Republican-controlled legislatures drew map after map in the last decade that preserved their holds on power even when voters spurned them.
That said, the leader of the national party’s campaign against gerrymandering, the former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., had not publicly supported the Virginia measure. A spokesman, Patrick Rodenbush, said there were concerns that its protections against partisan interference were not strong enough.
On Friday, Mr. Holder said in a statement that he was still concerned about the amendment’s protections for minorities, and said he worried that there would be too little time for an independent panel to be assembled and start work before redistricting begins in early 2021. But debate over alternative amendments “helped bring to light some of its weaknesses, many of which, but not all, have been addressed by enabling legislation.”
The Virginia debate unfolded as Republicans in three other states have moved to roll back ballot initiatives favoring nonpartisan redistricting that voters approved in 2018.
In Missouri, where 60 percent of voters backed a constitutional amendment mandating nonpartisan maps, the Republican-controlled Legislature is pushing a new amendment initiative that would effectively repeal that overhaul. The citizens group that shepherded the first measure to passage, Clean Missouri, has pledged to fight it, calling the proposal “gerrymandering, plain and simple.”
Sean Nicholson, the campaign director for Clean Missouri, predicted that any change the Legislature proposes will be turned down in November. “People voted by an almost two-to-one margin — Republicans, Democrats, independents — to pass this in 2018,” he said in an interview. “One thing we’ve seen is that voters are legitimately angry at the idea of politicians trying to overturn their vote.”
Michigan Republicans first sought to strip state funds from an independent redistricting commission that voters approved, and then filed suit in federal court last July to abolish it, calling the panel “blatantly unconstitutional.”
And in Utah, the anti-gerrymandering group Better Boundaries reached a compromise on a new redistricting procedure with that state’s Republican-controlled Legislature, which was poised to neuter a citizen-passed plan handing political map drawing to an independent panel.