A proposed state constitutional amendment on the ballot in Virginia in the Nov. 3 election calling for a bipartisan commission rather than the governor and state legislature to decide on changes in congressional and state legislative districts has created a rift between Virginia’s four LGBT members of the legislature.
Gay State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and lesbian House of Delegates member Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) have spoken out in support of Amendment 1, saying it would be a major improvement over the longstanding system of having the legislature create the district boundaries.
But transgender State Sen. Danica Roem (D-Prince William County) and gay House of Delegates members Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) and Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County) have joined the state’s Democratic Party in expressing strong opposition to the proposed amendment.
“It pretends to be a reform measure but in reality it would enable gerrymandering to continue,” Levine told the Washington Blade.
He was referring to the longstanding process known as partisan gerrymandering where the political party in control of a state legislature shapes the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts in such a way that voters who support them outnumber the opposing party’s voters.
The U.S. Constitution requires states to redraw congressional and state legislative districts every 10 years to conform to population changes calculated by the U.S. Census.
Ebbin and Adams have joined a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans who argue that Amendment 1 would create a 16-member commission on which four Democrats and four Republicans would serve regardless of which party has control of the legislature. Under the proposed amendment, the other eight members of the commission would consist of citizens appointed by a panel of five retired Circuit Court judges.
The panel of judges would be appointed from a list created by the Virginia Supreme Court. Four would be chosen by both parties in the legislature and the fifth would be selected by the judges themselves.
Levine and others who oppose Amendment 1 point out that it authorizes the legislature, known in Virginia as the General Assembly, to vote on approving or rejecting whatever redistricting plan the commission comes up with without making any changes. If the General Assembly votes against the plan the commission must come up with one more proposal. And if that too is rejected by the General Assembly the state Supreme Court would make the final decision on how the districts should be shaped.
“That has all but one Republican appointed judge,” Levine said, adding that in the end under the current make-up of the state Supreme Court Republicans would still control the redistricting process.
He and other opponents are urging voters to reject Amendment 1 so that the General Assembly, which is now controlled by Democrats, can come up with another more reform-minded proposal and bring it back to the voters in two years.
The Washington Post, which endorsed Amendment 1 in an editorial on Sept. 27, says arguments against the amendment “amount to an attack on the good in the name of the perfect.” It argues in its editorial that it’s “highly unlikely” that the state Supreme Court would produce a redistricting plan as partisan and as one-sided as those produced by the legislature, which the Post says will conduct the redistricting if Amendment 1 is defeated.
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