Commonwealth of Virginia

While it is commendable that many in both parties are seeking a better solution to the drawing of electoral maps, this amendment does little in the way of reaching its own goal of improving the current situation.

First, the language of the amendment as it appears on the ballot is misleading. By simply reading the text as it is, one might come away with the impression that the General Assembly would lose its voice on who serves on the commission. To the contrary, the General Assembly would still retain much of its voice, and the power to appoint to the commission is placed in the hands of the party leadership. Although the commission would be bipartisan, it would certainly not be independent from lawmakers' influence.

So in practice, if the amendment passed, the commission would not be much different from a joint committee of the General Assembly. Half of the commission members would be sitting legislators picked by party leadership, while the other half would be picked by individuals chosen from among a list of individuals supplied by those same party leaders. “Rather than having me decide, here is a list of people I want you to choose from so they can decide.” Not much of an improvement, is it?

Lastly, the amendment entirely removes the executive branch’s say in the matter. Not even a veto is allowed. The separation of powers between the legislative and executive functions has deep roots in the DNA of our nation’s democracy. Both functions should have a say in drawing the maps so as to be able to check one another. At least some on the commission should be appointed by the governor. There would never be such a thing as a truly independent commission. But using the time-honored principles of checks and balances would ensure that no one party or branch has too much say in the matter.

There are two redeeming values of the proposed amendment. First, a supermajority of the commission’s partisan members is required to approve the maps; second, the amendment does provide for equal representation of both parties, no matter how much of a majority one party may have in the General Assembly. A good solution would maintain these features.

A good solution would ensure that a commission is transparent and general rules and guidelines are in place. The existence of the commission alone will not end gerrymandering; it would still be largely dependent on other laws passed that govern what can and can’t be done when drawing lines on a map.

Russell Duncan


(1) comment


So don't do anything? Great solution!

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