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Virginia’s Fight for Non-Partisan Redistricting – Inside Scoop

(Feb. 13, 2017) Catherine Read talks with Olga Hernandez of the League of Women Voters in Fairfax, VA. Olga was previously president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia and has been deeply involved in the fight for non-partisan redistricting for decades. The LWV is currently working in collaboration with the non-profit OneVirginia2021 to educate the voting public about the issue of “gerrymandering” – the process by which the legislature draws district lines to pack voters into districts that ensure incumbents keep their seats year after year. The drawing of district lines happens every 10 years following the U.S. Census, which provides the population data that is the primary criteria for creating the districts. The next redrawing in Virginia will be in the year 2021 – which will coincide with a Governor’s race and the re-election of all 100 House of Delegate seats.

In 2015, the last election where all 100 House of Delegates seats were up for re-election, $45 million dollars was spent in Virginia and nothing changed. Every single incumbent was re-elected to office and many seats went uncontested all together. Brian Cannon, Executive Director of OneVirginia2021, is leading the fight to bring attention to the issue. A recently released documentary entitled “GerryRIGGED” is being shown around the Commonwealth of Virginia. Olga Hernandez has organized three showings on Thursday, Feb. 23rd – one at the Greenspring Retirement Community in Springfield, and two sold out showings at Cinema Arts in Fairfax City. The documentary is available on DVD and organizations around the state have an opportunity to bring this issue to the public.

The documentary “GerryRIGGED” interviews legislators and elected officials from both political parties. Democrats and Republicans have both contributed to this untenable state of affairs in Virginia and the practice goes all the way back to Patrick Henry who promoted redrawing a district line in order to block the political ascension of James Madison.

Delegate Ken Plum has introduced legislation in the House of Delegates every year since 1982 (when Democrats controlled the House) and every year such bills have been defeated.  In recent years, bills on non-partisan redistricting have been passed out of the Senate only to be killed in subcommittee hearings in the House. Three bills passed out of the Senate this month sponsored by Senators in both parties, including SJ 290 sponsored by Senator Janet Howell (D) and Senator Jill Vogel (R). Those bills were killed by a vote of 5-2 at an Election subcommittee hearing held at 7 am on Feb. 14th, despite the testimony of the sponsoring Senators. Senator Jill Vogel made her case at a press conference the day before, but to no avail.

GerryRigged Virginia
Congressional Races in Virginia 2012

The mission of OneVirginia2021 is to “advocate for the adoption of an amendment to the Virginia Constitution that will establish an independent, impartial commission to apply a fair and transparent process in drawing political districts after the 2020 census.”

While the efforts to amend our state constitution is a long slow process, OneVirginia2021 is also pursuing relief through the courts. There is a case pending that is asking the court to hold the legislature to the standard currently set by the Virginia Constitution which clearly states that “Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory . . .”  Follow updates to that case at http://www.onevirginia2021.org/compact/

Non-Partisan redistricting is a goal we must strive to reach if Virginians want better government. The hyper-partisanship and political gridlock threatens our ability to create good public policy. It’s not the biggest problem we need to solve, but it’s the first problem we need to solve in order to solve all the other ones.

The League of Women Voters continues to work on the issue of bringing non-partisan redistricting to Virginia. Organizations across the Commonwealth are reaching out to OneVirginia2021 to help educate voters about the impact of gerrymandering on good government.

For more information or to obtain the documentary GerryRIGGED email [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @1VA2021.

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