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Nonpartisan redistricting amendment passes House

vote 2020 election
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A proposed constitutional amendment that would create a nonpartisan redistricting commission will be on the ballot in November.

The House voted 54-46 Friday to advance SJ18, introduced by Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria.

The Senate had voted last month by a much more substantial 38-2 margin to pass the amendment, but talks in the House had stalled as a group of African American delegates raised issue with the commission as proposed, detailing concerns that the process being created could be used to suppress minority voting strength.

The other issue: time.

With the Census getting under way, the General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam are on the clock to redraw the state’s political boundaries in 2021.

Advocates for nonpartisan redistricting made the case that changes to the proposed amendment would effectively kick the can down the road all the way to 2031.

“This amendment will ensure that all Virginia voters have a fair say in our democracy, no matter where they live or what communities they come from,” Barker said after the House vote.

OneVirginia 2021, an advocacy group helping lead the effort toward nonpartisan redistricting, hailed what it called “a historic day for representative democracy in Virginia,” while also acknowledging the “spirited conversations” over issues raised in the past few days.

“These discussions have made the amendment and accompanying enabling legislation even stronger, and OneVirginia2021 will work with elected officials, redistricting experts and voting rights advocates of every political persuasion to ensure that the commission’s work is successful if the November referendum passes. In the end, we all want the same thing: to right this wrong and improve upon the unfair redistricting status quo,” the group said in a statement.

“Every vote should count, and every voice should matter,” said Kathay Feng, national redistricting manager for the advocacy group Common Cause. “Virginians deserve to have a seat at the redistricting table and a redistricting process that puts the interests of communities above the interests of politicians. We appreciate the dedication shown by delegates from both sides of the aisle to a redistricting process that works for everyone. Today’s vote was an historic step forward.”

Story by Chris Graham