Virginians to decide constitutional amendment transferring redistricting powers from legislature to commission

On March 5, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 54-46 to approve a resolution placing a redistricting-related constitutional amendment on the ballot for November 3, 2020. The ballot measure would transfer the power to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts from the state legislature to a 16-member redistricting commission composed of eight state legislators and eight citizens.

In Virginia, a joint resolution for a constitutional amendment needs to be passed in two successive sessions of the Virginia General Assembly. In 2019, the Republican-controlled House and Senate passed a resolution. Democrats won control of both legislative chambers in November 2019. In 2020, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed the resolution 38-2. The proposal received more opposition in the state House, where 46 Democrats opposed it. Nine House Democrats and all 45 Republicans voted to place the constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot. Before the final vote on March 5, Del. Marcus Simon (D-53) offered a substitute for SJR 18. The substitute resolution was rejected 47-53. Substitute SJR 18 would have created a redistricting commission composed of 11 commissioners “who are, as a whole, representative of the racial, gender, political, and geographic diversity of the Commonwealth.” Approval of Substitute SJR 18 would have restarted the process of amending the Virginia Constitution, meaning an amendment could appear on the 2022 ballot at the earliest.

Under the constitutional amendment that voters will decide in November, the commission would draw the maps, and the General Assembly would vote to pass or reject the maps. The General Assembly would be prohibited from amending the maps. If the General Assembly rejected a map, the redistricting commission would design a new map. If the map was rejected again, the Virginia Supreme Court would establish the districts.

Maps would also require approval by 12 of 16 (75 percent) commissioners, including six of eight legislators and six of eight citizens. Leaders of the legislature’s two-largest political parties would select members to serve on the commission. Therefore, based on the current membership, the commission’s legislative members would include two Senate Democrats, two Senate Republicans, two House Democrats, and two House Republicans. The commission’s eight citizen members would be recommended by legislative leaders and selected by a committee of five retired circuit court judges.

The constitutional amendment is the first ballot measure certified for 2020 that is related to redistricting. Measures could also be on the ballot in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Oregon. In 2018, five states—Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah—voted on initiatives to change redistricting procedures or establish redistricting commissions, and all of them were approved by voters.

With the Virginia General Assembly adjourning on March 8, no additional constitutional amendments can be referred to the 2020 general election ballot unless a special session is held. Besides the redistricting amendment, voters will also decide an amendment that would create a property tax exemption on vehicles for veterans.

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Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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