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Re-evaluating redistricting

Redistricting is one of the major issues Virginia voters will vote on this November. But what is it — and how does it affect you?

Last year, Virginia Republicans fought a legal battle over whether they could shape electoral districts, in a process called redistricting, in a way that “weakened the clout of Black voters,” according to Reuters. A federal judge ruled that the way they redistricted, called gerrymandering, would violate the 14th Amendment — and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

Brianna Smith

This year, Virginians will vote on something that may prevent that in the future. The Redistricting Commission Amendment, or Virginia Question 1, could change how redistricting is done in Virginia. According to Ballotpedia, a “yes” vote would create a redistricting commission made up of legislators and citizens.

A “no” vote would keep the state legislature responsible for redistricting. Here’s how it will appear on your ballot...“Should the Constitution of Virginia be amended to establish a redistricting commission, consisting of eight members of the General Assembly and eight citizens of the Commonwealth, that is responsible for drawing the congressional and state legislative districts that will be subsequently voted on, but not changed by, the General Assembly and enacted without the Governor’s involvement and to give the responsibility of drawing districts to the Supreme Court of Virginia if the redistricting commission fails to draw districts or the General Assembly fails to enact districts by certain deadlines?”

How does redistricting work?

States are divided into districts. Virginia’s 4th Congressional District, for example, includes Virginia State University and Norfolk State University. Every 10 years, lawmakers draw new state legislative and congressional lines once people complete the U.S. Census.

The majority party in a given state can use its power to draw districts to such a degree that would potentially help it stay in control. The Supreme Court of the United States has decided drawing district lines for states is beyond their purview, leaving the responsibility for doing so in the hands of each state.

What would Virginia Question 1 do?

Richmond-based nonprofit OneVirginia2021 helped convince the state’s General Assembly to have voters consider Constitutional Amendment 1, which if passed, would create the Virginia Redistricting Commission.

Comprising both citizens and politicians alike, the 16-member group would draw lines for the state Senate and the House of Delegates of the state’s General Assembly, and also for the United States House of Representatives. In the event that efforts to draw districts fail, the Supreme Court of Virginia would take up the responsibility.

Earlier this year, the amendment caused a rift in the Democratic Party of Virginia. Some saw the potential in the amendment, and others were hesitant to support for a multitude of reasons. Notably, the cities where the state’s HBCUs are located — Hampton, Norfolk, Petersburg, Richmond, and Lynchburg — have high Black populations, and Virginia has a sizable Black middle class.

According to the Washington Post, gerrymandering is often used to “deprive Black people of political power” in favor of Republicans, by reducing representation of Democrats, which most Black people affiliate with. Black Americans have also had issues maintaining their influence at the ballot box in recent years.

One study from the Brookings Institution estimates almost 25 percent of the Black citizens in Florida could not vote prior to the 2018 midterm elections because of voter disenfranchisement and other tactics. Limiting gerrymandering could give Black Virginians a more representative voice.

Next: There are nearly six million registered voters in Virginia. Here’s how they break down.