Thursday, February 26, 2009

Slay the gerrymander

CCC has previously posted about redistricting, gerrymandering, and the negative consequences for our democracy. Research across the nation clearly demonstrates gerrymandering reduces competition between the parties, heightens voter apathy while lowering voter participation, protects incumbents, reduces accountability of elected officials, and has other negative consequences.
About a dozen states have created independent commissions to draw legislative districts and several others have advisory or backup panels to help deal with the partisan bickering and gridlock redistricting often produces. For several General Assembly sessions, Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) has worked on a constitutional amendment to create a redistricting commission. In 2008 this legislation passed with strong bipartisan support in the Senate, but was killed by Republicans in a subcommittee of the House Privileges & Elections committee. Among those voting to kill it was Delegate Steve Landes (R-Augusta). Because a constitutional amendment takes passage in two sessions of the General Assembly, with an intervening election, and approval by voters in a referendum, redistricting reform will not pass in time for Virginia's next redistricting following the 2010 census.
But, maybe something can be done over the next decade to assure that redistricting reform will be in place for the 2021 session of the General Assembly. The Virginia News Letter has an in-depth study of the negative consequences of this old political practice, Gerrymandering 's Long History in Virginia: Will This Decade Mark the End? From the introduction:
Every 10 years, a new U.S. census sets the stage for a round of political redistricting in Virginia and the nation. It also brings the likelihood that the boundaries of some newly drawn voting districts will be manipulated in an obvious effort to benefit one political party. This popular but unfair practice is called gerrymandering. Virginia, with a history of gerrymandering going back to the earliest days of the nation, should begin a reform process immediately to prepare for the redistricting that the 2010 census will require. Stroupe, chief of staff at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and a member of the state Commission on Civics Education, recommends that the legislature strongly consider establishing an independent panel of current or former state judges to assist in redistricting.
Gerrymandering isn't always the reason for low political competition and low voter turnout. But, to the extent this form of political manipulation results in voter apathy and suppression, it serves as a significant limitation on one of the greatest exercises of liberty possessed by the citizens of this state and nation. Stroupe writes, “It is time the ‘Cradle of Democracy’ became the ‘Graveyard of Gerrymandering.’”
Kenneth Stroupe's essay should be required reading for candidates for statewide office and for the House of Delegates. Those who opposed the bill must be held accountable in November 09.

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