Two Constitutional amendments are on the ballot for Virginia voters in the November election.
One of those proposed amendments has the potential to impact the outcome of future elections in the commonwealth.
The first Constitutional amendment asks voters whether or not they are in favor of establishing a redistricting committee to draw the Congressional and state legislative districts. The bipartisan committee would consist of eight members of the General Assembly and eight citizens of Virginia.
Under the current Virginia Constitution, the General Assembly and the governor are tasked with drawing new election districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, state Senate and the House of Delegates. New district lines are drawn in Virginia every ten years based on the most recent U.S. Census numbers for the purpose of ensuring equal population in each district.
The Constitutional Amendment on the ballot has been in the works since 2018, and a “yes” by Virginia voters would be the last step in the process of amending the Constitution to establish the redistricting committee. OneVirginia2021, a civic non-profit organization, was formed specifically to achieve redistricting reform in Virginia. The organization convened a committee of former legislators who drafted a model Constitutional amendment, which was proposed to the Virginia State Assembly in its 2019 session. The Virginia Redistricting Reform Amendment passed in the 2019 and spring 2020 legislative sessions.
Although the constitutional amendment passed in the House and the Senate, it only passed by a narrow vote in the House after Democrats gained control of the legislature in the 2018 elections, and redistricting reform continues to be a contentious issue along party lines. Some Democratic leaders in Virginia are heading up a campaign to defeat the referendum, and the majority of Virginians voted Democratic in the 2016 presidential election. Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus also opposes the Amendment.
The goal of the amendment, as stated on OneVirginia2021’s website (https://www.onevirginia2021.org/), is to end partisan gerrymandering in Virginia, where gerrymandering is defined as “the manipulation of the redistricting process to guarantee certain outcomes from elections.”
“Currently, Virginia legislators can go into a smoky backroom and carve up our communities however they wish,” said Brian Cannon, founder of OneVirginia2021, in an email to The Gazette-Virginian. “This has led to partisan gerrymandering, racial gerrymandering, and uncompetitive elections. Both parties have done it.
Cannon continued, “Amendment 1 sets the redistricting process in a fair, transparent and bipartisan fashion so as to end partisan gerrymandering and forever rid us of the smoky backroom.”
In Cannon’s view, Virginia citizens are “overdue” to have the opportunity to vote on redistricting reform. Cannon said in his email that OneVirginia2021 has been working for seven years to get redistricting reform in the Commonwealth, but noted “there were plenty of organizations and efforts that carried this banner before us, most notably the League of Women Voters who remain one of our strongest allies.”
Gerrymandering has been practiced in the United States since the time of the Founding Fathers, and is a tactic that the political party in the position of power uses to maintain the upper hand.
The second Constitutional amendment on the ballot asks voters, “Should an automobile or pickup truck that is owned and used primarily for or by a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces or the Virginia National Guard who has a 100% service connected, permanent and total disability be free from state and local taxation?” If that amendment passes, applicable motor vehicles would be exempt from taxation starting on Jan. 1, 2021, or whenever the veteran gets the vehicle, whichever date is later.