A bipartisan nonprofit group is holding town halls throughout Virginia to promote redistricting legislation that will take the drawing of district lines out of the hands of the state legislature.
The group, OneVirginia2021, held a town hall in Virginia Beach Tuesday. It plans to hold four more. They are expected to hold one in Staunton on Sept. 26, one in Norfolk on Oct. 1 and two in the Richmond area later in the year. The specific locations for these town halls have not yet been announced.
Brian Cannon, executive director of OneVirginia2021, told The Center Square that the group is using these town halls to explain the problem with politicians drawing their own district lines to keep incumbents in power, which he says robs voters of having a choice. The group will explain their concerns and offer their alternative solution.
The nonprofit seeks to end political gerrymandering through legislation that would create a Virginia Redistricting Commission. This commission would have a non-legislator as a chairperson and would be made up of eight legislators and eight non-legislators.
Retired judges would select the members of the commission through a list provided by Republicans and Democrats from the state House and Senate. To pass new districts, the lines would have to be approved by six citizens and six legislators, then get the approval of the state legislature. The legislature could only approve or disapprove of the lines, but not make any amendments.
Just this year, the courts redrew Virginia’s districts for the House of Delegates after the court ruled that they had been unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered. After the Republican General Assembly failed to strike an agreement with Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, the court appointed Bernard Grofman, a professor of political science at the University of California - Irvine, to draw the maps.
Cannon said that he thinks the courts made the right decision in overturning the district maps because African Americans had been disenfranchised from the gerrymandered maps, but he does not think the solution was ideal. Cannon said that the new maps are better than the old maps, but that district lines should be drawn by Virginians, rather than by someone from California.
Similar legislation to curb gerrymandering has passed in other states, oftentimes through a statewide referendum. However, Cannon said that Virginia law does not make that route possible for the commonwealth. Rather, it has to be done through legislation.