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Senate Moves Bipartisan Redistricting Reform Amendment Forward

Senator George Barker speaking at a pro-redistricting amendment press conference
Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax) speaking at a pro-redistricting amendment press conference on Thursday. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

All but two state senators passed a constitutional amendment Tuesday night that would give the power to draw boundaries in voting districts to a bipartisan commission.

The commission, approved by the Senate, would redraw the political districts ahead of the 2021 election. It would be bipartisan, made up of 8 lawmakers and 8 citizens.

Brian Cannon, the executive director of the non-partisan group OneVirginia2021, said redistricting reform is about taking political power out of the equation.

“There’s open data, open meetings,” Cannon said. “There’s no more smoky backrooms in which this process will occur. It will occur in the full light of day with everybody able to look into it.”

The amendment has not been voted on in the House, where Del. Cia Price (D-Newport News) is offering a competing proposal that she says would include more language around diversity within the commission. However, that is a bill, not a constitutional amendment, meaning it could easily be repealed if the General Assembly changes hands from Democratic control. 

Legislation has already passed in the Senate requiring the commission reflect the racial and regional diversity of Virginia, said Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond).

“You cannot draw these maps in a vacuum that ignores years and years of segregation and red lining,” McClellan said. “All of that has to be taken into account if you’re going to protect minority communities today.”

On Tuesday night, the Senate also passed a bill requiring that the Virginia Supreme Court appoint two special masters - one from each party - to draw the political map if the commission can’t reach a consensus. That addresses concerns from some Democrats that the majority of the state Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republicans. 

If the full General Assembly approves the bill, then voters will make the final decision on redistricting reform on the November ballot.