Expert says Virginia needs independent commissions to redraw districts

By  | 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WCAV/WHSV) — A local civil liberties expert has a possible remedy for Virginia's controversial gerrymandering problems.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the current legislative districts must be redrawn because of racial gerrymandering. The court issued a separate controversial ruling stating that it's not up to federal courts to intervene in partisan gerrymandering.

The high court's ruling on the issue of gerrymandering in Virginia has been thrown back to the lower courts and that may have an impact on Virginia's own controversial voting districts, which multiple courts ruled were gerrymandered to pack minorities into certain districts to give Republicans more favorable districts overall.

The redrawn map supported by the Supreme Court now favors the Democrats.

The founder of the Charlottesville-based civil liberties group The Rutherford Institute, John Whitehead, says a better way to make sure there is fair redistricting would be to take lawmakers out of the process and have independent councils draw the maps.

"Some states have set up independent counsels with select people from different groups to do the so-called redistricting. That's a much better way to do it but again, it should force people into the political process and get down to the legislature and city counsels and demand that they set up these independent commissions," Whitehead said.

Voters in four states have approved measures to approve independent commissions to prevent partisan gerrymandering.

Senator Emmett Hanger, who represents the 24th District in Virginia, has proposed an amendment to do the same in Virginia at every General Assembly session for the past few years, but it's gained a lot of traction recently.

"If we can build some fairness into the system so that no matter which party is in control of the General Assembly, and no matter which party holds the governorship, that we'll be drawing plans that are in the best interest of the people we represent," Hanger said.

Hanger's bill to create an independent commission passed the General Assembly in 2019, but since the change requires a constitutional amendment, the bill has to pass in the exact same form again in the following year.

After it is passed by the General Assembly for two consecutive years, it then goes to Virginians as a referendum.

Copyright 2019 WCAV and WHSV. All rights reserved.