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Community View: Let's move redistricting from smoke-filled rooms into sunlight

It is time we move political redistricting out of closed back room and into an open, impartial process. Why do I believe this is so important?

Because fair and open elections are at the heart of our representative government.  Manipulation of the political process in any form, including by gerrymandering, is a threat to a healthy democracy. I believe we are at a crossroads. Historically, in every jurisdiction, gerrymandering has been done by both the Republican and Democratic parties. In too many cases, including in Virginia, when this process is extreme, we end up with ridiculous gerrymandered districts that are drawn mainly to disadvantage the opposition and their voters.

I believe it is time to end this antiquated system that gives the majority political party the ability to distort district boundaries for their own benefit without regard to local communities. It is time to get rid of a system that allows political parties to choose their voters instead of voters getting to choose their representatives.

Recently, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case on extreme partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin. Their decision could have important implications for district maps across the country, including Virginia. It could allow us to create districts that are more compact and actually contiguous, that don't unnecessarily divide communities, and that don't result in pre-determined partisan election outcomes.

This past session in the House of Delegates, I supported legislation to establish nonpartisan criteria to be observed in drawing districts and to prohibit the unnecessary use of political data or election results in the process. Unfortunately, these bills failed to get past sub-committees.  

I intend to act in the next session of the General Assembly to pursue legislation that will establish a system that is open, transparent and impartial. I will work with my colleagues to create an independent commission that can adjust boundaries after each census using objective, nonpartisan criteria such as legal boundaries and demography along with other clear, common sense criteria.

Today there is a Republican majority, but the pendulum will swing back one day. It is time to come to a bipartisan agreement to move permanently to fair redistricting for the health of our democracy. The old-fashioned "smoke-filled back rooms" offer no benefit to the democratic process.  I will continue to fight to open the windows to transparency because I believe it is ultimately in the interest of all our people.