Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) has taken a position in the controversy over whether to go forward with a gerrymandering reform first passed when Republicans were in the majority in Richmond. After spirited debate at the monthly FCDC general membership meeting on Jan. 28, members passed a resolution not to support the current redistricting amendment.
Instead, FCDC supports a non-partisan or independent redistricting process. The resolution encourages members of the General Assembly representing Fairfax County, to reject SJ18 and the related constitutional amendment.
The constitutional amendment contained within SJ18 allows for continued partisan influence and manipulation, according to FCDC.
The commission in charge of redistricting under SJ18 would contain legislators and the composition of its citizen members will be influenced by legislators. The amendment also contains no anti-gerrymandering criteria, and instead relies on companion legislation to ensure that fair districts are drawn – legislation that can be repealed by a future General Assembly.
Moreover, the current amendment would pass deadlocks to the state Supreme Court for resolution. Critics fear that Republican members of the commission would stymie more fair district maps in hopes that the court, most of whose members were appointed by Republican majorities, would rule in their favor.
To become law, the current amendment, which was passed in 2019, would need passage by both houses of the legislature in the current session, followed by a referendum in November. The process would start all over again if the current amendment were scrapped in favor of a new one in the current session.
The FCDC resolution calls on members of the General Assembly for Fairfax County, to support the passage of legislation to govern the 2021 redistricting that reflects a return to the independent process that has been sought for many years. It also calls for enshrining that process for future reapportionment in a constitutional amendment.
Although some members supported the current amendment because it removes sole authority for drawing district outlines from the legislature, others, including Joann Collins of Hunter Mill District, said there are better alternatives. Collins said the amendment could set us up for Republican gerrymander. “We are redistricting in 2021, we are in the majority now and we need to give our legislators the leeway to take a look at what’s available,” Collins said.
“There’s other better redistricting (proposals) by Delegates Marcia Price (D-95) and Mark Levine (D-45) and Price’s legislation is backed by Eric Holder’s group, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee,” Collins said.
At a press conference in mid-January, Price proposed legislation (HB1256) to create an independent Virginia redistricting commission.
“I am committed to passing redistricting reform this year so that voters can choose their elected officials, not the other way around,” Price said. “But simply put, there is no reform without the full and equal inclusion of communities of color. This legislature has the opportunity with HB1256 to move forward boldly with redistricting reform that proactively addresses 400 years of discrimination to make sure communities of color have an equal opportunity and voice in our democracy. Redistricting reform must happen this year and it must happen in a way that leaves out no voter, no matter where they live or the color of their skin.”
The current process in Virginia is both untenable and unacceptable,” said Yurij Rudensky, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The question isn’t whether reform is necessary, but what is the right path forward,” he said. “HB1256 offers enhancements in important areas that track what we strongly believe are best practices, including public accountability, independence, and clear guidelines for drawing maps.”
Photo: The Virginia Capitol where legislators will decide shortly whether to continue with the current gerrymandering reform or start anew