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EDITORIAL: Vote 'Yes" on redistricting amendment

EDITORIAL: Vote 'Yes" on redistricting amendment

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PHOTO: Gerrymander

Virginia House District 72

EVERY 10 years, we get a chance to let voters pick their political representatives rather than vice versa. For Virginians, now is that time. A proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November will go a long way toward putting power into the hands of the people rather than the politicians.

The year following each United States decennial census, we get to redraw district maps, ostensibly to reflect shifts in population.

Here’s the problem with that: Because the people changing those boundaries are the elected officials themselves, whatever changes are made tend to ensure that the folks in office stay in office.

Hence, you have a situation like that in North Carolina, where in a state whose voting populace is almost evenly split between Democrats and the GOP, 10 of the state’s 13 U.S. representatives are Republicans.

The federal courts can tweak egregious gerrymandering, as they have in North Carolina, but here in Virginia, we have a chance to make sure the deck isn’t stacked to begin with.

Instead of letting whichever party controls the state legislature draw the lines, the amendment leaves it to a 16-member redistricting commission. That commission would consist of four Democratic lawmakers, four Republican lawmakers and eight ordinary citizens. One of those citizens would chair the commission.

The commission’s findings would be passed on to the General Assembly for approval on an up-or-down vote. If the commission were deadlocked, the plan would be passed on to a group of experts named by the state Supreme Court.

This is not fool-proof. Democrats worry that GOP-chosen judges will tip the scales, although federal courts can reject another attempt at gerrymandering, and state Supreme Court justices are not known to be as political as, well, politicians.

But Democratic concerns reek with hypocrisy. The same Dems who moaned for years about the unfairness of the old maps suddenly got control of both houses of the General Assembly last year. Suddenly, with the chance to redraw the lines themselves, the amendment they had pushed for a decade was a terrible idea.

The only way the amendment got on the ballot at all was somewhat miraculous. Both chambers had to approve it for two sessions in a row, and it had to be the two sessions before the next census. (Even now, a delayed census count could mean the first state elections affected could be in 2023 instead of 2021.)

If the amendment to let the people decide does not pass this year, look for 10 more years of gerrymandering, whichever party draws the lines.

Last December, a poll showed that nearly three-quarters of registered voters in Virginia favored this proposed amendment. We hope that Democrats’ opposition to what seemed to them a great idea just one year ago won’t change many minds.

Vote “Yes’ for Amendment 1, which will keep politicians from choosing their voters.

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