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Proposed constitutional amendment would change redistricting

November 29, 2018

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — An independent commission rather than the General Assembly would redraw Virginia’s state legislative districts after the 2020 census under a constitutional amendment proposed by a nonpartisan group.

OneVirginia2021 is opposed to what it considers the gerrymandering that occurs when Virginia’s lawmakers take the lead in drawing their own legislative districts. On Thursday the group unveiled a proposal to amend Virginia’s constitution so an independent commission would draw the districts rather than the legislature.

The amendment must pass the legislature in the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions and a statewide referendum to be in place in time for the required redistricting in 2021, advocates said.

The proposal gives Democrats, Republicans, independents and retired judges a role in creating and serving on what would be a 10-member commission.

Among those who helped craft the amendment is Virginia law professor A.E. Dick Howard, who played a lead role in crafting Virginia’s current constitution.

Virginia’s legislative districts have drawn judicial scrutiny for packing large numbers of African-American voters into a small number of districts, diluting their influence in surrounding districts.

House Democrats in Virginia say they support establishing an independent commission, said caucus spokesman Kathryn Gilley. The caucus has not committed, though, to the specific mechanisms proposed by OneVirginia.

Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox, said consideration of a redistricting amendment will be a topic for discussion in 2019, but he was critical of OneVirginia2021 for its efforts to overturn the existing districts. He said those districts were enacted with bipartisan support.

Brian Cannon, OneVirginia’s executive director, said the group is not opposed to tweaking the proposed mechanisms for selecting commissioners as long as the commission’s independence is retained.

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