Bipartisan Bill Would Dramatically Change (For the Better!) the Way Redistricting is...

Bipartisan Bill Would Dramatically Change (For the Better!) the Way Redistricting is Done in Virginia


by Lowell

Kudos to State Senators Janet Howell (D) and Jill Holtzman Vogel (R) for introducing SB 59, which lays out strict criteria for how redistricting can be done in Virginia. A few key requirements, which are most certainly NOT the case now, would be:

  • Existing political boundaries shall be respected to the maximum extent possible. Political boundaries shall include the boundaries of counties, cities, towns, county magisterial and election districts, municipal councilmanic districts, and voting precincts. If a departure from existing political boundaries is necessary in order to comply with other districting criteria, the district lines shall be drawn utilizing clearly observable physical boundaries.”
  • “Districts shall be drawn in accordance with the requirements of federal and state laws, and judicial decisions interpreting such laws, that address racial and ethnic fairness, including the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and the provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended.”
  • “Each legislative and congressional district shall be composed of contiguous territory. A district shall be deemed contiguous if it is possible to travel from one point in the district to any other point in the district without crossing the boundary of the district.”
  • Each legislative and congressional district shall be composed of compact territory. Districts shall not be oddly shaped or have irregular or contorted boundaries, unless justified because the district adheres to political subdivision lines.”
  • “Consideration may be given to communities of interest by creating districts that do not carve up homogeneous neighborhoods or separate groups of people living in an area with similar interests or needs in transportation, employment, or culture.”
  • “No district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator or member of Congress, or any potential candidate. Political data, including addresses of incumbent legislators or members of Congress, political affiliations of voters, or previous election results, shall not be used in the drawing of any legislative or congressional district, except as may be necessary to ensure that racial or ethnic minorities are able to elect a preferred candidate of choice in a district drawn pursuant to the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended.”
Note that I saved the best one for last, although these are all excellent points. Bottom line: if this legislation is adopted, it will completely change the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn in Virginia — and almost needless to say, MUCH for the better! Of course, a straight nonpartisan commission drawing the districts would be ideal, but the chances of that passing, given the current makeup of the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates, are basically zero. Which means that this approach – having strict redistricting criteria written into the Virginia code – is the next best option (also worth pointing out is that the criteria listed in the Howell/Vogel bill are essentially identical to what would be used by a nonpartisan commission).

So, can this excellent, much-needed bill pass? It won’t be easy, but it’s encouraging to note that it’s a bipartisan bill, and also that Senators Vogel (R) and Howell (D) have both been chairs of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, so they both have a great deal of credibility on this issue. Hopefully, by these two teaming up, they can move this legislation forward. Of course, the biggest hurdle will be House Privileges and Elections, so if you live in a “red” district represented by a member of this committee (e.g., Mark Cole, Chris Jones, Tim Hugo, Randy Minchew, Israel O’Quinn, Steven Landes, John O’Bannon, Dave Albo, Riley Ingram, Jackson Miller, Buddy Fowler), email or call them and let them know how you feel!

P.S. Also see Del. Rip Sullivan’s bill along these same lines. Nice job!