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Open Letter to the Virginia House Privileges & Elections Committee on the Redistricting Amendment

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by Diana Smith (HD 36) – very tired campaigner for progressive values in Virginia

Dear members of the Virginia House Committee on Elections and Privileges:

The Virginia Democratic majority recently took over the legislature after three years of campaigning, canvassing, organizing, postcarding, and unrelenting determination. We worked non-stop to overcome the gerrymandered maps put in place by the GOP legislature in 2001, and Ed Gillespie’s Redmap initiative of 2011. Yet even with the majority now, the next election may be lost because of the 2019 Redistricting Amendment.

No one wants gerrymandered maps. Polls show 76% of Virginians are opposed to gerrymandering. But that doesn’t mean they are for this redistricting amendment; in fact, most probably have never read it. This redistricting amendment does not ensure fair maps, but is the hurried by-product of a last-ditch effort by the previous Republican majority under the guise of bipartisanship. Bills addressing climate change, voting rights, justice reform and gun violence prevention all perished in committee in the 2019 session by GOP-led committees, yet this amendment was hurriedly passed at the end of the session by that same GOP majority.

The enthusiasm among the state’s Democratic leadership for this amendment is tepid – tempered with acknowledgments that it is “not perfect” and requires a good deal of “enabling” legislation to ensure it produces fair maps. This is a hollow endorsement for a process that will live a lot longer in our Constitution than it would if it were simply a law. In fact, all of the “enabling” legislation wrapped around the amendment could be repealed at any time in the near future, leaving Virginia with the flawed amendment.

I urge you to consider House Bill 1256, offered by Delegate Cia Price, which is well thought of by both the Brennan Center and by Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee. The legislation could be enacted for 2021 and used as a template to write an informed amendment worthy of becoming a part of the Constitution later.

Democrats are being pressured into voting for the amendment in the second reading. They are said to have promised to vote for it with their initial first vote. But what is the purpose of a second reading? Is it not to provide a chance to reconsider, to listen to opposition, to remember that the GOP uses voter suppression as a campaign tool and that an amendment is very hard to change?

We can have legislation passed for fair mapping and avoid gerrymandering in 2021 (proving Democrats have principles) without an imperfect amendment.

Virginia has 400 years of sometimes inglorious history. Let’s move beyond our past. It’s time to weed out disparity, inequity, and community suppression. Please consider House Bill 1256 for redistricting.

Thank you for your attention

Diana Smith (HD 36) – very tired campaigner for progressive values in Virginia