Proposal legislation would create citizens committee to draw Virginia’s legislative district

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RICHMOND, Va.  — A non-profit organization says two state senators are backing a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a citizens committee to draw legislative districts.

OneVirginia2021 is backing the legislation. It formed a citizens committee to draft the proposal.

“Whoever the incumbent is for a particular district, they address that district as Mr. or Ms. ‘So and so’s” district. It isn’t,” the Chair of the Citizens Constitutional Amendment Drafting Committee WyattDurrette said. “It is a district belonging to the people in that district and the process in which these lines are drawn belong to the people of Virginia.”

The legislation comes as lawmakers and the courts go back and forth on 11 House districts. A court ruled back in June that the lines for these districts were drawn in a way that sorted voters by race.

It’s a form of gerrymandering, which is when voting district lines are drawn in a way to favor one group or party.  

Over the past few months, delegates met for a special session and proposed a number of different maps to redraw the lines deemed unconstitutional. The main issue, with all of these proposals, was to try to remain “blind to race.” Watching this process, Gov.Northam said he would not sign off on the map because of “partisan process” that took place to make it.

When the deadline was up, a judge ordered an independent party to make the maps. Currently, an appeal from House Republicans is being reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States. Speaker of the House Kirk Cox’s office announced Wednesday that he has requested a “stay” in the remedial map drawing process while SCOTUS reviews the appeal.

While this has all been going on, a citizens committee has been working on a proposal to have an independent party in charge of drawing legislative district lines.

What does this look like? The top four leaders of the General Assembly would each nominate a retired Virginia Circuit Court judge. Then, those four judges would pick another judge to join them. Those five judges will pick five Democrats, five Republicans and 12 Independents. 

In total, 22 candidates. Lawmakers will set the parameters for what qualifies someone to fall into these three parties. People can also apply to serve on the commission.

Once all of the candidates are selected, the each General Assembly leader had strike three candidates, one from the opposing party and two independents. It’s kind of like when lawyers strike people from a jury pool.

So, the list is cut down from 22 to 10. Three Republicans, three Democrats and four Independents.

The group will then draw district lines. Members of OneVirginia2021 and the citizens commission emphasize a need for transparency with this process. The proposal calls for all of the redistricting meetings to be open to the public.

In order for this to take any effect before the lines are redrawn in 2021, the proposal has to pass the General Assembly in 2019. Then, it’ll go through another round of votes in the 2020 session before it could make it to the ballot for voters that November.

The two state senators advocates say have backed the proposal are Sen. Emmett Hanger (R – District 24) and Mamie Locke (D – District 2).

No word yet on who’s supporting it in the House of Delegates.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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