(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) Every ten years, following the U.S. Census, the Virginia legislature gathers in Richmond to redraw the state’s legislative boundaries. And every ten years, the party that’s in power at the time attempts to draw the borders in a way that favors their electoral chances.
It’s called ‘gerrymandering,’ and it’s practiced in state houses across the country.
But the Virginia chapter of the League of Women Voters has seen enough. Together with the national LWV organization, they’ve been pushing for the past seven years to take redistricting responsibility away from state legislators and put it into the hands of some sort of nonpartisan commission or process.
“We believe that although we have some great state legislators, them drawing their own lines is like having the foxes guarding the hen house,” said Olga Hernandez, president of the LVW of Virginia, at a forum in Ballston last week. “We just think there should be a fairer way of representing people and the interests of the community”
It may be too late for this go-round; the redistricting process is set to get underway in April. Since the forum, Gov. Bob McDonnell has created a bipartisan commission to help oversee this year’s redistricting process. But Hernandez is hopeful that lawmakers may finally be on the verge of passing more permanent reform that would promote transparency instead of the past preponderance of backroom deals.
Redistricting reform has made for some strange but powerful political bedfellows. Arlington’s Del. Bob Brink (D), Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), former gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds (D) and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) have all been supportive of the League’s efforts, Hernandez said.
“It’s not just one side” of the political spectrum, she said.
Hernandez points to California as a state that was heavily gerrymandered after the last census, but which has since reformed its system thanks to a voter referendum and support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. While she believes Virginia could be on the same path, she acknowledged that it’s still an uphill battle.
“It’s hard to get people to give up power,” Hernandez noted.
This year, as far as Arlington’s state legislators and congressman are concerned, redistricting is not expected to have much of an effect. While rapidly-growing Northern Virginia counties like Prince William and Stafford are likely to add districts and radically change district boundaries, Arlington has grown at a more modest pace and will likely only see minor changes and contractions in district borders.