By Chris Buchheit
In November, Virginians have a unique opportunity to fundamentally improve the structure of democracy, the likes of which only presents itself once in a generation.
A constitutional amendment (the “Virginia Redistricting Commission Amendment”) will appear on the ballot to hand over redistricting to a bipartisan commission that includes citizens. As you may know, currently the political party that happens to control the legislature holds the authority to draw election district lines. It is fundamentally critical that we pass this amendment.
Why does this amendment matter? Under the current system, legislators in the majority get to draw their own districts and effectively pick their voters, leading to uncompetitive elections, with some seats going completely uncontested. In uncompetitive districts, entire voting blocs and communities are effectively denied political agency, incumbents are entrenched, and representatives tend to hold more extreme views in either direction. This is not democracy, it’s state-sponsored corruption, and it occurs all over the country.
When the Republicans were in charge in Richmond, Democrats were some of the loudest voices in opposition to partisan districting efforts. Several still are; they have come forward to support the amendment and they should be commended. Now that the Democrats find themselves in the state legislative majority, however, some elected officials who supported the amendment in the past, suddenly, do not.
Regrettably, some of the people who – in my view – have tried to manipulate public opinion on the amendment are the ones who have the most to gain from killing it. Perhaps they fear their districts becoming more competitive and having to campaign on equal terms with an opponent.
Leading to November, opponents will parrot manipulative tactics about why we should distrust the amendment. They will prey on your fears and other base instincts. They will call the plan a Republican gerrymander in disguise. They will accuse state judges of being partisan hacks.
They will offer vague promises of replacement legislation. But promises do not carry legislative weight, and there is no time to make binding changes before the next round of redistricting occurs. We need immediate and effective change now; any delays will amount to implementing a Democratic gerrymander. Partisan districting was corrupt when the Republicans were in charge, and would remain corrupt now that Democrats are in charge.
We should reject any patently corrupt demands to retain a patently corrupt system.
We have a golden opportunity to create a better system that works for all voters, regardless of which party holds the legislative majority. Every single district should be fair and competitive, and every group should be represented. When this happens, politicians have to reach out to all voters in their districts, and political discourse and governance improve. Your vote will matter more, and your elected officials will represent you more fully. All of this is possible under the Virginia Redistricting Commission Amendment. Please join me in voting for this essential amendment in November.
Chris Buchheit is a resident of Arlington.