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Republican Leaders Pitch Their Own Redistricting Amendment

Speaker of the House Kirk Cox Craig Carper/WCVE News

Republican Speaker of the House Kirk Cox reversed course and endorsed a constitutional amendment for an independent redistricting commission for the first time on Monday.

Redistricting advocates were quick to poke holes in the plan, which they say does little to address partisan gerrymandering.

Under the plan from Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania), both parties would appoint an equal number of citizens to the 12 member commission. That commission would draw maps designed in part to preserve the results of the last gubernatorial election.

Cox said his endorsement of the plan was based on a recent U.S. District Court verdict that found lawmakers unconstitutionally packed black voters into 11 districts. A court-appointed expert drew new maps that show sharp swings in the districts of Cox and Del. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), who helped draw the current maps.

“I think clearly all leadership was targeted,” he said. “If they're all gonna be tied up in litigation, they're all gonna be decided by in some cases very liberal federal judges, I'm not sure how much say the legislature really had.”

Left-leaning groups and redistricting advocates said that while they welcomed an independent commission, the requirement to preserve “the political parity between the two political parties" based on the last gubernatorial election would actually encourage gerrymandering.

“If their mandate is to draw rules that preserve a particular partisan makeup of the General Assembly, that's not fair and independent redistricting,” said Anna Scholl, head of the progressive advocacy group Progress VA. “That's taking a decision away from the voters.”

“We feel very strongly that this amendment should include specific provisions for full transparency and clear rules prohibiting political gerrymandering,” said Brian Cannon, the executive director of the advocacy group OneVirginia2021.

Cole said the requirement for equal party representation would mitigate--though not eliminate--the dominance of one political party. “I don't think there's any way to take partisanship out of the process,” he said.

Several other redistricting amendments have already been voted down, including one endorsed by OneVirginia2021.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.