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State Senate bill would strengthen nonpartisan redistricting effort

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Photo Credit: traveler1116/iStock Photo

State Sens. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) have introduced legislation that would ensure the diversity, transparency and nonpartisan results of the redistricting commission established by the proposed constitutional amendment up for its second approval in the 2020 General Assembly.

Other co-patrons are Sens. John Bell (D-South Riding) and Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon).

Senate Bills 203 and 204 will add additional safeguards to create a comprehensive redistricting package by building on the significant and historic reform provisions in the proposed constitutional amendment.

The enabling legislation addresses four specific ways to statutorily improve the redistricting process:

  • requiring the makeup of the commission to reflect Virginia’s diversity
  • specifically prohibiting gerrymandering in all forms
  • augmenting transparency rules to encourage additional community engagement
  • setting up clear, non-partisan criteria for the Virginia Supreme Court to follow in the unlikely event of two gridlocked commission votes

The proposed commission would give citizens an equal voice in the redistricting process for the first time and it already has strong provisions for open meetings and open data. Also, to avoid partisanship, a supermajority of the commission would be needed to approve new district maps.

These pieces of enabling legislation create a complete redistricting package to work alongside the historic constitutional amendment,” Lucas said. “SB203 and SB204 will fully encompass the kinds of reforms Virginians have wanted for a long time: an equitable, transparent and bipartisan process to ensure our electoral maps are drawn fairly.” 

“Not only would this comprehensive package of legislation protect existing communities, including minority communities, but they will also specifically bind the Supreme Court into following a specific set of criteria to follow – including the appointment of a Special Master to draw the lines if necessary,” Locke said.

First approved in the 2019 session, the amendment to the Virginia Constitution requires a second approval in the session that opens on Jan. 8. According to a December poll by the Wason Center at Christopher Newport University, 70% of Virginia voters across the political spectrum support passage of the amendment in 2020.

“If the Constitutional amendment on redistricting passes, it is imperative to have the strongest enabling legislation in place to assure a fair and transparent process,” Boysko said. “These bills provide the safeguards we need to stop gerrymandering and to bolster public participation, mandating the criteria and assuring that those who have a personal stake are unable to control the redistricting process.” 

OneVirginia2021 Advocacy Board Chair Susan S. Platt echoed the patrons.

“Although the proposed amendment will be the most comprehensive redistricting legislation that has ever passed through a state legislature, there are still several ways to further the redistricting process in 2021 and beyond. These bills reflect those enhancements, and OneVirginia2021 is eager to work with the General Assembly to ensure these reforms become a reality,” Platt said.

Find the full text of SB203 and SB204.


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