Two lengthy letters on page 24 in this week’s Alexandria Times opinion section make the case for and against Amendment 1, the redistricting amendment that’s on the Nov. 3 ballot in Virginia.
The two writers, state Sen. George Barker, D, a patron of the amendment, and local resident Boyd Walker, who opposes it, state their cases. As Walker says, most of those who support and also those who oppose the amendment want an end to gerrymandering in Virginia.
Amendment 1 would eliminate gerrymandering.
One of Walker’s criticisms of the proposal is that it’s not nonpartisan. But it wasn’t intended to be nonpartisan – the proposed constitutional reform is guaranteed to be bipartisan.
This means both parties would have equal representation on the 16-member commission that the amendment establishes, regardless of who controls the state legislature. This bipartisan element satisfies the requirement in the U.S. Constitution that state legislatures be involved in redistricting efforts and would also end the ability of either party to play games with redistricting for political advantage.
Another criticism of Amendment 1, that it somehow doesn’t protect the representation and therefore the rights of Black people, is a real head scratcher. First, it’s gerrymandering that diminishes the political power of Black people, which has traditionally crammed them into as few districts as possible.
There was a time when this was done out of racist intent. That’s now illegal, but it’s still done for political gain when redistricting is a purely partisan enterprise.
If Amendment 1 is harmful to Black people, then why has Eric Holder, the first Black U.S. Attorney General in history, who served under Barack Obama, the first Black U.S. President, strongly supported it? Why does every member of Virginia’s Black Caucus in the State Senate support it?
Black people in Virginia will gain political clout, not lose it, if Amendment 1 is approved.
One of the concerns raised about Amendment 1 is partisan, but it’s legitimate: What if Republicans regain control of the state legislature by the time the 2030 U.S. Census is taken, and they pass legislation that returns control of redistricting to the legislature just in time for them to resort to partisan redistricting?
The answer: They can’t without the consent of Virginia’s voters.
An amendment to Virginia’s constitution requires that both chambers of the state legislature pass the proposed amendment in successive terms, which sends the measure before the voters in the form of a ballot amendment – like Amendment 1 this year.
And Virginia’s voters then have to say “Yes.” That applies this year to enact the initial reform and it would apply at any point in the future if a majority in the state legislature wanted to repeal Amendment 1.
The most persuasive reasons to vote for Amendment 1 are: 1) it’s a good bill that will make redistricting in Virginia bipartisan instead of partisan; 2) it protects the rights of Black people and other minorities; and 3) it requires that the redistricting process be transparent and open to the public.
But another compelling facet is that this is essentially a one-shot deal because of the politics involved in getting to this point.
An almost fluky alignment of the stars, planets and moons enabled Amendment 1 to pass in successive terms. In the first term Republicans were in charge of the legislature, while the second term Democrats were in control.
When the measure passed last year, a combination of conviction and political self-interest motivated most members of both parties to support the reform. This year, the political motivation was largely erased for Democrats, but most of the Democrats in the State Senate and nine Democratic members of the House of Delegates showed great integrity in voting “yes.”
It’s been 76 years since the United States has experienced a Halloween blue moon like will take place on Saturday. It could be that long again before a similar opportunity for true bipartisan redistricting reform occurs in Virginia.
Help seize this opportunity by voting “yes” on Nov. 3.