Virginia Capitol Connections Winter 2022

Virginia Capitol Connections, Winter 2022 16 Perhaps to no one’s surprise, Virginia’s redistricting process has once again ground to a halt despite the establishment of a redistricting commission. Many—including your gentle scribe—celebrated the commission’s creation as a first step towards meaningful redistricting reform. Yet, by all accounts, it is clear that partisan concerns permeated the commission’s work. Legislators dominated the deliberations. Citizens really have had no real sway. Once again, the Commonwealth must turn to special masters and, no doubt, litigation. Once upon a time, it was possible to envision a redistricting process that was controlled by our elected officials. But, it is now clear—in Virginia and across the country—that the conflict of interest in such an arrangement is overwhelming and belies any possibility that districts will be drawn in the public interest. The parties and our elected legislators have too much to lose. To a certain point, this is quite understandable. Members of the House of Delegates serve two-year terms. The legislative session is 90 days. Between primaries and general elections, they spend at least as much time campaigning as they do legislating. Under such circumstances, even the most public-spirited elected official would think twice about losing supportive voters in the redistricting process. Add to this the pressures imposed by the Voting Rights Act to draw districts that will give minority voters an equal opportunity “to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice,” and it is clear that in states like Virginia, the interests of elected officials will dominate the redistricting process. As Del. Marcus Simon said: “Virginia is a bipartisan commission, but with the partisans selected by the political leadership of the two houses in the General Assembly — so it’s not only partisan, but it’s hyperpartisan… So you’re getting the most trusted partisans the other party has to offer and sending them in to duel, as opposed to compromise.” ( gerrymandering-redistricting.html?searchResul tPosition=1) The process is Virginia is expensive in terms of work-hours and money. It does not serve the interests of the voters. As I have demonstrated in prior articles for Virginia Capitol Connections, our state legislative elections are plagued by low turnout, low registration, lopsided or uncontested district elections, and, for the most part, unbeatable incumbents. For the last few decades, the state has had to draw five senate and twelve house of delegates districts in conformity with the VRA. Yet, elections in those districts are even less competitive than those across the rest of the state. Furthermore, at the end of the day, the creation of five senate and twelve house districts to serve minority interests still leaves a vast number of minority voters in districts where they seldom see a minority candidate and as seldom experience a competitive election. If insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, the Commonwealth is in need of help. Alas, solutions are obvious. But, until those same hyperpartisan legislators shed their self-interest or someone convinces the courts that a change is necessary, Virginia will remain trapped in its insanity. Three simple solutionswouldput anend to this. First, the redistricting process should and could be turned over to the Division of Legislative Services. This would remove the legislative conflict of interest. Iowa redistricts this way. Democracy still functions there. Second, lengthen terms in the House. Let delegates serve for four years. Give them chance to focus on lawmaking instead of running for reelection. Finally, get rid of single-member districts. The state map could easily be redrawn into 20 districts in which two senators and five delegates would be nested. Critics argue that single-member districts ensure that voters know who their representative is and that representatives can connect with their particular constituencies. But, that is a romantic vision of the relationship between voters and legislators that comes to us from a time when distances were greater to traverse and communication was much more limited.We live in a digital era. Folks can communicate with their representatives easily via their handheld devices. There is no question that multimember districts would require candidates to campaign more—and more effectively—because there would be a guaranty of competition. This would be the price to pay for enhancing the quality of choice on Election Day. But, if the Commonwealth were to lengthen the terms of office, the cost of additional campaigning could be offset by the opportunity to spend more time governing. The General Assembly could initiate any or all of these suggestions easily—if the members wanted to do so. They would restore electoral competition and give voters real choices. As well, they would comprise a thoughtful—and sane—way to put an end to doing the same thing over and over...and expecting a different result. Mark Rush is theWaxburg Professor of Politics and Law, and Director of the Center for International Education at Washington and Lee University. Redistricting in Virginia: Insanity 101By MARK RUSH For a uniquely Richmond experience, stay at Richmond’s oldest and newest boutique hotel. From the tatooed entrance doors on our suites, to the art and furnishings from local artisans, to the finest RVA craft beers and Black Hand Coffee Company products, The Commonwealth is like none other. 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