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What’s Next: Redrawing Political Lines, Keeping Incumbents Honest

What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Last year’s Redistricting Commissioning Constitutional Amendment approved by Virginia voters changed how we will draw lines for the Virginia Legislature and United States House of Representatives from state legislators to a process to be determined by an independent redistricting commission.

This 16-member commission composed of eight legislators and eight citizen participants has been hosting meetings since July 13 and will continue to do so through October.

The clock has begun ticking since the Census released population data on Aug. 12. The commission will have 45 days from the release to draw maps of Virginia’s House and Senate districts to the State Legislature for consideration, and 60 days for a map of U.S. House districts.

This past Monday August 23, the commission voted 12-4 for an agreed-upon bipartisan group of independent, but politically aligned, map-drawers to start from a clean slate, rather than beginning with current district lines.

This was a positive step in the right direction, but what happened via a proposed motion from George Barker, a Democrat representing parts of Alexandria City, Fairfax, and Prince William and leading Senate Republican Steve Newman. They proposed starting from old maps because it “could help the commission gain needed support for the maps from the General Assembly, which will have to approve the maps for them to be enacted,” as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Luckily the proposal failed 9-7, but is still a disturbing development for many reasons.

This shows that A — it is likely that the Republicans will block votes against the new lines, and B — that there are incumbent Democrats that are hesitant to vote for new lines in fear of losing their seats, including in extremely liberal districts adjacent to Arlington.

Democrats hold a thin lead in the Legislature and we need every vote possible to pass these independently drawn lines. The result if these lines aren’t approved by the General Assembly: redistricting will be handed over to the conservative leaning Supreme Court of Virginia. This is a large part of why most Republicans will vote in block against any proposal given by the independent commission.

This is likely the most important administrative task that the Virginia legislature will vote on this decade as it will re-draw lines for the next 10 years. We cannot leave this process to a court process where six out of seven judges were appointed by a Republican-led General Assembly.

I would like to laud Delegate Marcus Simon of Falls Church, who has been a champion of a fair and independent redistricting from the very beginning and throughout these commission hearings, for being able to see through the technicalities of every step in this process.

After this process is through, my hope is that the commission will have done a commendable job of drawing fair, compact and non-discriminatory lines for our new General Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives. If you believe this to be the case, reach out to your Delegate and State Senator encouraging them to support the measure. Even strong Democratic districts are at risk of legislators voting for their own self-serving interests. Find your legislators online.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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