Opinion: Commentary: The New Redistricting Process Begins

Opinion: Commentary: The New Redistricting Process Begins

With the approval of Amendment #1 by 66% of Virginia voters at the ballot box last month, the new redistricting process is now underway and the map-drawing is shifted to a 16-member bipartisan commission. While I did not support the passage of Amendment #1 due to concerns regarding partisanship and weak language regarding racial gerrymandering, among other reasons, I am hopeful that with strong leadership, this commission will help produce fairer electoral maps that will reduce gerrymandering and provide equal representation for all Virginians.

Last week, the five retired Circuit Court judges appointed to the commission met for their inaugural meeting to determine how they will go about accepting applications from citizen members to join the commission. The process to appoint these five judges was that one judge each was selected by the House Democratic leadership, House Republican leadership, Senate Democratic leadership, and Republican leadership, and then one chairman was chosen to serve by those four appointees. This week, Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn announced her appointment of Delegate Delores McQuinn and Delegate Marcus Simon to serve on the commission as her two appointees. I have every confidence that they will serve with distinction, fairly, and honestly as new legislative boundaries are drawn. Eight total General Assembly legislators will serve on the commission. The other appointments must be made by Dec. 1, and at the time I write this column, six nominees from Republican House leadership and the Senate are still forthcoming.

The other half of the new Redistricting Commission will have eight citizen members. The appointments must reflect "the racial, ethnic, geographic, and gender diversity of the Commonwealth,” according to the constitutional amendment we just passed. The application to join the commission is now live. If you are interested in applying to work on the commission as a citizen member, I have outlined below the requirements that must be met and the on-line application link. Citizen members are required to be Virginia residents for the past three years and must have voted in at least two of the last three general elections. Applicants CANNOT be considered if:

  • They currently hold, have held, or have sought partisan elected office or political party position

  • Employed or has been employed by the General Assembly or Congress

  • Employed or has been employed by any campaign for local, state, or federal office

  • Employed or has been employed by any political party or a member of state party central committee

  • Has been lobbyist or lobbyist principal in the last five years

  • In addition, the prohibition extends to a parent, spouse, child, sibling, or in-law of anyone who would be disqualified for the five reasons stated above

To learn more and apply as a citizen member, you can visit https://redistricting.dls.virginia.gov/RedApplicationDownload.aspx. The deadline to submit an application is Dec. 28, 2020.

Jan. 1 is the deadline for legislators to submit names to the judicial panel from the applications collected to consider as the citizen nominees. Each of the four delegations — House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans — can nominate up to 16 nominees. By Jan. 15, the judicial panel must select their eight final citizen members.

Then, on Feb. 1, the newly-formed commission will hold its first full meeting where they select a chairman from among the citizen members. The 2020 Census data is expected to be provided to Virginia by April 1, 2021. Receiving this Census data on time will be crucial to using these new district boundary maps for the Aug. 24 primary and November 2021 general elections. The Department of Elections requires 99 days between the approval of maps and the start of early voting for a primary election to give localities an opportunity to reassign voters to their new voting districts, as well as to allow candidates time to qualify to run for election. So, next year, we will not have the normal June primary elections. Instead, when I run for reelection as Delegate of the newly drawn 44th district, it will be an August primary, followed by the November general election. The 45-day early voting period for the primary would begin on July 9th. All of this is of course contingent upon the Census data arriving in time.