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Virginia Voters Approve Redistricting Committee

Voters in poll booth in auditorium
Voters cast ballots on Tuesday. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Virginia voters approved a ballot measure that will strip lawmakers of their longstanding unilateral power to draw their own political districts once every decade.

The amendment to Virginia’s constitution hands over map-drawing powers to a 16-person committee made up equally of citizens and a bipartisan selection of lawmakers from the General Assembly’s two chambers. Advocates argued the process will produce fairer maps because the districts require the approval of a supermajority of members to pass. 

The development was hailed by FairMaps, the primary group backing the amendment. 

“From the start, this movement has been about putting the voices of citizens above politicians and political parties,” FairMapsVA executive director Brian Cannon and campaign co-chairs Wyatt Durrette and Bobby Vassar said in a statement.

The amendment had support from a broad swath of national redistricting groups. Donors pumped in over $2 million to support the amendment’s passage.

The proposal divided Democrats in the General Assembly, including some who previously supported the amendment in 2019. Critics said the amendment was imperfect because it still included lawmakers, involved the conservative-leaning Virginia Supreme Court as a backstop, and didn’t mandate minority participation on the committee.

Absent the amendment, lawmakers would be in charge of the once-a-decade redistricting process. The Senate voted down an alternative legislative proposal from Del. Cia Price (D-Newport News) in March. Price told reporters she’d altered her alternative, all-citizen proposal to include lawmakers after she was told it wouldn’t have enough votes to pass. 

The amendment was an agreement hashed out largely between Republican leaders and Senate Democrats in 2019, when the GOP controlled both chambers. Republicans, now in the minority, enthusiastically campaigned for the amendment this year in a shift from tepid support in years past.

The process of creating the committee will likely begin almost immediately after the election. Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to write language into the state budget that will help set the process of selecting committee members in motion.

Virginia’s off-year elections mean it is typically among the first states to receive U.S. Census Bureau data used to create Congressional and state legislative districts. But it’s not clear the commission will get that data in time to draw maps ahead of next year’s House of Delegates races because of pandemic-related delays at the census. 


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