By Charles Head
Gerrymandering: an odd partisan game played by politicians. A quaint tradition of American electioneering played out in smoky back rooms, but of little consequence. Is that really true?
Well, not entirely. Gerrymandering is odd, and politicians do it, but it definitely isn’t of little consequence.
The following table gives results from the 2012 U.S. Congressional elections (shortly after the last round of redistricting, when the effects of gerrymandering can be seen clearly):
Gerrymandered districts can be reliably counted on to vote predominantly for one party instead of being competitive arenas where candidates need to listen to all constituents. The candidates aligned with the majority party feel little pressure to consider positions opposed by the party faithful, and are less likely to compromise when elected. This applies to all the districts in a gerrymandered state, not just the ones in which election results are flipped. The result is often uncontested elections with gridlock in Congress and state legislatures, and eternal political squabbling instead of effective bipartisan solutions.
Such ideological entrenchment is counterproductive to effective democracy. This, coupled with government shutdowns and Congress’ inability to make decisions on critical issues made a strong impression on me over the last 20 years or so, convincing me that I needed to do my part to fix the situation. I decided to join OneVirginia2021, a group committed to replacing gerrymandering with non-partisan redistricting.
How can we end gerrymandering? In most states, Congressional and state election districts are drawn by state legislatures. There’s an inherent conflict of interest in this approach because incumbents fudge the lines to get re-elected. To eliminate this conflict of interest, California, Arizona, Washington and other states have re-assigned the drawing of election districts to independent, non-partisan commissions.
OneVirginia2021 is trying to do the same thing in Virginia and drafted a proposed amendment to the Virginia state constitution to end gerrymandering. The following concepts were central to our proposal:
- A non-partisan redistricting commission, independent of the state legislature.
- Clear rules requiring fair, non-gerrymandered election districts.
- A transparent process to enable the public to monitor the process.
The proposed amendment was not accepted by the legislature. Instead, a joint House-Senate conference committee negotiated an agreement that includes elements from competing Senate and House proposals.
This alternative includes a commission with membership equally divided between legislators and citizens from both parties, with a citizen serving as the chair. The process used to select citizen members of the commission, and the exclusion of unelected Congressional and General Assembly employees, is also intended to quell partisanship in drawing election maps.
While the compromise does not ban partisan gerrymandering outright, it does require a supermajority of commissioners for approval of election district maps, allows the General Assembly only up-and-down votes on the maps and excludes the governor from the approval process to avoid partisanship. The compromise also requires the redistricting process be transparent, so citizens can see what is being done and hold people accountable.
The legislature’s compromise was adopted on Feb. 23. Although the compromise doesn’t include everything that OneVirginia2021 asked for, I believe this version will empower citizen members of the proposed redistricting commission to prevent gerrymandering.
We still need to get this proposed constitutional amendment passed by the General Assembly a second time in 2020, and then get it accepted by the people of Virginia in the November 2020 election. We also need implementing legislation to fill in details and qualified, unbiased candidates to apply to be members of the Virginia redistricting commission. Finally, monitoring the work of the commission once it’s up and running is essential to ensure no one subverts its intended function. Democracy is worth the effort.
Charles Head is Co-Chair of the Arlington Local Action Group of OneVirginia2021. Readers can get more information about non-partisan redistricting and the Virginia General Assembly’s action on this issue at OneVirginia2021.
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Tour the secluded and quiet Bellevue Forest with its local parks, trails, forested areas and more in Neighborhood Spotlight.
St. Charles offers a play-based curriculum in a welcoming, Christ-centered environment.
Our program focuses on socio-emotional development and kindergarten readiness through hands-on and engaging activities. Our programs offer different schedules ranging from 7:30 am-5:30 pm for students, ages 2-5. We feature a full-day Jr. kindergarten class for older 4’s/5’s. Our facility includes a full-sized gymnasium, school chapel, and library. All of our students enjoy music and physical education weekly. Children have an opportunity to participate in enrichment classes such as soccer, basketball, ballet, and science.
We offer Summer Camp with weekly themes and twice a week water play, including Fun Friday moon bounce. Please join us for our Open House Feb. 3 at 9:30 am and 11:00 am. Click here to sign-up.
For more information or to schedule a tour, visit us at www.stcharlesarlington.org or call (703) 527-0608.
If you are a lifelong learner over 50+ who wants to make new friends, power up your brain, and enjoy a wide-variety college-level courses, Encore Learning is for you. An Arlington based nonprofit, Encore Learning offers courses in the arts, theater, literature, history, technology and more. This semester we offer our most popular course, Global Hot Spots as well as 25 new courses. Courses are presented either online or in-person at George Mason University at Virginia Square and other Arlington locations.
Join the free presentation to learn about courses and meet the instructors. This is Encore Learning’s signature event to highlight the upcoming semester with brief presentations by each instructor.
The Spring Course Preview event is Thursday, February 2nd at 9:30 AM via Zoom:
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