A non-partisan, independent commission to redraw our voting maps would be great! Unfortunately, that is not what Amendment 1 achieves.
Election season is in full swing, and everyone is buzzing about the Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates that just passed. However, for Virginia in particular, the President and Vice President may not be the most impactful decision that voters will make on their ballots this year. In 2021, our state and Federal voting maps must be redrawn. The General Assembly decided to pass SJ 18, a proposed Constitutional amendment that takes map-drawing power away from the state legislature and gives it to an “independent” Commission. Now, we citizens will vote on SJ18 in the form of Amendment 1. This commission is billed by its proponents to end gerrymandering and partisanship in the redistricting process. This sounds good on the surface, but as we dig deeper, we realize how it fails to deliver on its promises.
Eight members of the commission are citizens, and the other eight will be lawmakers for a total of sixteen members. The eight lawmakers will be four Democrats and four Republicans, with half of them coming from the House of Delegates and the other half from the State Senate. This poses many problems:
- The commission still has Legislators on it, which keeps them in the map-making process.
- All of the members of this commission, even the citizens, are hand-picked by Legislators.
- If this commission fails to draw up maps that the General Assembly agrees to, that would shift the responsibility to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Guess who confirms those Judges? You guessed it, the Legislators!
This is precisely why I am urging you to vote NO on Amendment 1.
This amendment aims to take power away from lawmakers, but it keeps lawmakers in the map-drawing process. This will not create a more fair process because allowing any lawmaker, no matter how genuine and honest they are, to select their own voters is a direct conflict of interest. This is the equivalent of allowing athletes to coach, referee, and play in the same game. They stand to greatly gain or lose from how those district maps are drawn, and that is precisely why they must be removed from the map-drawing process. We must strive for a truly independent redistricting commission that we, the people, vote for.
It’s also worth noting that there are no protections in this proposed Constitutional amendment against racial gerrymandering. This is especially concerning considering that new maps were drawn for our state house races just last year because of racial gerrymandering. A common argument I’ve heard is that this commission will give minorities a ‘seat at the table.’ The problem is there’s nothing that guarantees that communities of color will be represented on this commission. Even if a few Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) end up on this commission, they’ll be party hacks that the party bosses approve of, not ordinary citizens. This is one of the main reasons the Virginia NAACP opposes the amendment.
We, the people, don’t get to choose the members of this commission, the party bosses do. This constitutional amendment doesn’t take their power away; it consolidates influence into the hands of a select few Legislators. It doesn’t give us more power; it takes away our chance to make the Commonwealth more just. If Amendment 1 passes, it’s very difficult to change the state constitution, so there’s no turning back. We don’t have to settle for this. If we’re going to reimagine how our redistricting process works, we must remove elected officials from the map-drawing process entirely. Vote NO on Amendment 1!