To the editor:
Both sides, for and against the constitutional amendment, that would change the way legislative district boundaries are drawn, believe gerrymandering is bad. As most of us know, gerrymandering is when elected officials choose the voters in their districts to benefit their own chances for re-election. If the Republicans are in charge, as they were in 2001 and 2011, they create as many Republican leaning districts as possible. Many people believe Democrats would like to do the same. They would be mistaken to think this is the reason many Democrats, including Mark Levine, Cia Price, Josh Cole and Charniele Herring oppose it.
Opposition to the Amendment is for three main reasons: It is not independent or non-partisan as its proponents claim. Second, it was crafted in a back room without input from people of color, none were included in the final crafting of the language, and it does not ensure their inclusion in a commission. Lastly, they oppose it because it is a constitutional amendment that would be very hard to overturn or take additional legislation to fix.
Last weekend I watched a PBS segment on how redistricting reforms went in Missouri. The advocacy group Clean Missouri helped get rid of a bipartisan commission and replace that system, which did not work, with a state demographer. Now there is criteria that ensures voters come first and all districts are competitive, having near equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, and it seems to work well but may be overturned by a new amendment. We don’t know if what is being proposed in Virginia will work, and even its supporters acknowledge it may need enabling legislation, also known as guardrails. So why put something in our constitution that we are pretty sure will need fixing or a new amendment to reverse it? We should fight for a good amendment that ensures the values we want.
If we leave redistricting in the hands of elected officials we also leave in place the incentive to create districts that benefit their re-election chances. Only by having a state demographer using a mathematical formula or a truly independent commission of citizens do we take the incentive to redistrict out of the hands of elected officials and put it into the hands of citizens. Voters should pick their elected officials, not elected officials picking their voters. We must hold out for a non-partisan commission, and a better amendment. This is not the best we can do.
If you believe people of color should be included and their interests protected in the redistricting process, they were not. Not one was in the room where it happened and Virginia’s two African American Congressmen, Bobby Scott and Donald McEachin, oppose it, as well as the Black Caucus in Virginia’s House of Delegates, the NAACP and VANewMajority.
The NAACP statement says, “The amendment fails to provide protections for communities of color. It remains silent on any requirement for diversity on the commission” and that “Amendment 1 would undermine opportunities for Black voters to elect representatives of their choosing while consolidating the power of a handful of powerful politicians to control the redistricting process.”
After a summer where much of the nation was focused on why “Black Lives Matter” why would we so quickly forget that it is not just a slogan or a banner but rooted in systemic racism of exclusion. Let’s not repeat those mistakes.
By all means do your own research and read the amendment but remember that the devil is in the details and even though this sounds good and sounds better than what we have now it’s not necessarily so. Let’s not enshrine drawing district lines in the hands of politicians in our Virginia Constitution. Please vote “no” on 1.
-Boyd Walker, Alexandria