By Zach Armstrong
PETERSBURG, Va -- Gerrymandering might be a problem of the past in Virginia.
Voters of the commonwealth voted 65 percent in favor of Amendment One on the Nov. 3 ballot, which abdicates responsibility of drawing electoral districts from the General Assembly and the Governor to a 16-person bipartisan commission of citizens and legislators.
“From the start, this movement has been about putting the voices of citizens about politicians and political parties,” the leaders of the pro-amendment group Fair Maps VA said in a statement following election day. “Today, Virginia voters spoke loud and clear.”
The eight legislators are chosen by party leadership in the General Assembly, with an equal number from each major political party. The eight citizens are picked by a committee of five retired circuit court judges. If maps aren’t able to be drawn or approved, the Supreme Court of Virginia becomes responsible for drawing election districts.
At least six of the eight citizen commissioners and at least six of the eight legislative commissioners must agree to the maps to be submitted to the General Assembly who cannot make any changes to these plans. The Governor cannot veto any plan approved by the General Assembly.
The amendment also requires districts provide opportunities for racial and ethnic communities to elect candidates of their choice wherever practicable.
The ballot measure divided Democratic voters and legislators. The state party officially opposed the amendment but Senators Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner were in favor. Although Democrats in the state House of Delegates voted against the measure, most Democratic state senators voted for it.
“The people who pushed Amendment one know of its flaws — and it is now incumbent upon them to seek real solutions to fix those flaws, not just lip-service efforts like ‘consideration’ of Virginia’s diversity.” said Fair Districts, which opposed the amendment, in a statement.
Under current law, the General Assembly and the Governor draw new election districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, the state Senate, and the House of Delegates every ten years.
Gerrymandering has been a problem facing the state of Virginia in recent decades. After the Supreme Court found that Virginia’s maps had unconstitutionally concentrated black populations in certain districts to favor one party, the maps which are still in place were drawn by a special master.