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Critics of Virginia Redistricting Amendment Form New PAC

Voters in booths cast ballots in gym
Two voters cast their ballot in the June 2019 primaries. (Louise Keeton/VPM News)

Foes of a proposed Constitutional amendment on redistricting in Virginia have formed a new fundraising arm to fight the measure.

Opponents of the amendment will attempt to counteract the organizational muscle of OneVirginia2021, which has pushed for an amendment since 2013 and recently formed a fundraising arm of its own.

Tierra Ward, a Democratic campaign strategist who recently worked on Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaigns, will serve as Fair Districts PAC’s executive director. Trevor Southerland, former executive director of Democrats’ House caucus, is the group’s treasurer.

The PAC will also be backed by a to-be-announced group of lawmakers, according to Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg), who said she was helping Ward get the group up and running.

Aird said Fair Districts would aim to counteract the narrative pushed by “another organization” that the amendment would diminish partisan gerrymandering.

“I believe that it's important to establish this PAC to get the other side of the story out,” Aird said. “The more [voters] learn about this constitutional amendment, the more questions that they have. And the more opposed they become.”

Virginians will vote in November on Amendment 1, which asks whether the General Assembly should hand over its once-a-decade map-drawing powers to a 16-person commission. Eight of its members would be lawmakers, split evenly between the two major parties.

The plan was billed as a bipartisan compromise in 2019, when it passed with broad support in the GOP-controlled House and Senate over the objections of some members of the Black caucus, including Aird.

Other House Democrats became more outspoken against the amendment this year, with concerns ranging from the partisan makeup of the commission to the potential for the largely Republican-appointed state Supreme Court to draw maps if the commission repeatedly deadlocks.

Just nine House Democrats joined Republicans in  voting in favor of the amendment in March. Republicans were quick to call the move hypocritical, though some Democrats said they hadn’t had enough time to review the proposal last year. The Democratic Party of Virginia  adopted a resolution in June officially opposing the amendment.

In July, OneVirginia2021 launched its own nonprofit advocacy organization, FairMapsVA, with supporters that include former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), and former Republican Gov. George Allen.

FairMapsVA executive director Brian Cannon said the group had received over 1,000 donations and planned on running a roughly $2 million campaign to support the amendment.

“Those opposed to Amendment 1 like to pretend there is a better, legally-binding plan in place for next year,” Cannon said in a statement. “There isn’t. A ‘no’ vote is a vote to allow politicians to continue gerrymandering their own districts.”

Aird and other critics of the amendment point to  legislation passed this year that bans partisan gerrymandering. She said lawmakers should start from scratch to create a commission free from any politicians. Aird also acknowledged the tight timeline for defeating the amendment.

“We need to raise a lot of money very quickly,” Aird said.

Tierra Ward, the executive director, said in a statement that the group had begun raising funds for digital ads and other methods of persuasion and has “an aggressive plan to communicate with voters, the scope of which depends on the success of our fundraising.”

“If the first week is any indication, we're confident we'll have the ability to communicate appropriately,” Ward said.

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