VanValkenburg introduces nonpartisan redistricting legislation

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Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, has introduced the House of Delegates version of enabling legislation and amendments to create Virginia’s first redistricting commission.

The legislation also outlines criteria for the commission’s diversity, transparency and nonpartisan outcome when it is implemented following the 2020 Census.

In total, VanValkenburg introduced three pieces of legislation:

  1. House Joint Resolution 71, which is the House of Delegates version of the constitutional amendment’s second reading (SJ18-Barker).
  2. House Bill 784, which would implement a constitutional voter referendum on November’s ballot upon legislative approval of the proposed amendment.
  3. House Bill 758, which matches the previously introduced SB203and SB204 (Lucas-Locke), and will add additional safeguards and criteria to build on the significant and historic reform provisions in the proposed constitutional amendment. This bill is co-patroned by Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke).

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

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

The proposed commission would give citizens an equal voice in the redistricting process for the first time and 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.

“As an educator who has taught the Constitution and its values for fifteen years, I believe it is absolutely critical to the foundation of our democracy that voters choose their representatives and representatives do not choose their voters. I am proud to patron bills that will make sure Virginia’s redistricting commission addresses the concerns some of my colleagues have with the 2019 compromise,” said  VanValkenburg. “In order to ensure a healthy and fair democracy, it is imperative that electoral maps are drawn in an equitable, transparent, and fair way. That is what these bills will accomplish.”

HB758 co-patron Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, said the amendment “isn’t perfect, but it is an enormous step forward in giving citizens a voice in the process and making sure minority communities are given a fair shake when lines are redrawn in 2021. The criteria bills introduced in the House will make sure we make the forthcoming redistricting commission is given clear rules to follow in order to make the final electoral maps fair for all Virginians.”

First approved in the 2019 session, the amendment to the Virginia Constitution requires a second approval in the session that opens this week.

Nonpartisan redistricting advocacy organization OneVirginia2021 recently touted a broad list of endorsements and supporters of a comprehensive package, which includes the amendment and supplementary enabling legislation as outlined above.

“Virginians have made their voices crystal clear: they want the General Assembly to finish the job and pass comprehensive redistricting reform, complete with the second passage of the proposed constitutional amendment alongside enabling legislation to ensure diversity, transparency and fairness on the Commonwealth’s first-ever redistricting commission,” OneVirginia2021 Advocacy Board Chair Susan S. Platt said.

Sharron Kitchen Miller, chair of OneVirginia2021’s Foundation Board, added, “We look forward to working with Del. VanValkenburg and his colleagues in the General Assembly this year to ensure that partisan gerrymandering ends in Virginia once and for all.”

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