The year 2020 has been filled with major ups and downs, but nowhere has the good news been clearer than in the Virginia legislature. The General Assembly session in the opening months of the year and more recently the Special Session have been transformative in making the Commonwealth a truly progressive state. The voting system has been made easier and more accessible than ever before. Discrimination in all forms has been outlawed and hate crime laws have been strengthened. ERA was ratified. Laws to end gun violence are now on the books. Minimum wage has been increased and predatory lending heavily regulated. Details on criminal justice reform are still being resolved in the Special Session, but major steps in criminal justice and public safety reform will be taken before the session adjourns.
A major step forward in making Virginia a truly progressive state is up to the voters on November 3. Two successive sessions of the General Assembly have passed a Constitutional amendment to rid the state of gerrymandering, but the amendment needs to be approved by voters before becoming part of the Constitution. The amendment is question #1 on the ballot. I hope you will vote yes.
The subtitle of Virginia historian Brent Tarter’s book Gerrymanders: How Redistricting Has Protected Slavery, White Supremacy, and Partisan Minorities in Virginia (University of Virginia Press, 2019) summarizes the unfortunate consequences of a state that has been a victim of extreme gerrymandering throughout its history. Little wonder that Tarter supports the Constitutional amendment as being long overdue.
The language of the amendment provides protection against racial abuses of the past, saying “Every electoral district shall be drawn in accordance with the requirements of federal and state laws that address racial and ethnic fairness, including the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, and judicial decisions interpreting such laws. Districts shall provide, where practicable, opportunities for racial and ethnic communities to elect candidates of their choice.”
The director of Princeton University’s Princeton Gerrymandering Project, Dr. Samuel Wang, and colleagues recently wrote that “we are proud to endorse Amendment 1 because never before has the Commonwealth seen such an open and transparent redistricting process. Such citizen involvement will help protect communities that have been split up in the past.”
Political scientists and law professors from Virginia’s leading universities collaborated on an article that appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch earlier this year in which they wrote, “as scholars of elections and redistricting, we believe this amendment represents an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen Virginia’s democracy—one that we cannot afford to miss.”
David Daley, senior fellow with the elections think-tank Fair Vote and an author of books on the subject wrote in the Washington Post that “politicians usually do a lousy job of regulating themselves. But if this (Amendment # 1) moves forward it would be the strongest set of redistricting reforms to ever emerge from a state legislature in American history.”
Amendment # 1 is a big deal for democracy in Virginia. It is controversial for those who see themselves as losing power, but it is time to put gerrymandering on the trash heap along with Jim Crow laws and granite monuments. The decision is in the public’s hands. Please vote yes!