Details of a lawsuit and its resolution might be boringly technical, but the dispute is anything but.
The important thing is that Virginians will be able to vote on a constitutional amendment that finally will put some restraints on partisan redistricting and will help curtail the anti-democratic practice of gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is when politicians draw up voting districts in ways that advantage them or disadvantage their opponents.
The General Assembly is in charge of redistricting, which is done every 10 years after the census to rebalance district populations. Whichever party is in power uses that power to benefit itself and its own politicians. An increasingly common result: Districts are no longer competitive, having been drawn specifically to discourage healthy two-party contests. And voters have no real choices when they go to the polls.
The amendment would shift district-drawing authority to a bipartisan committee composed of eight citizens and eight lawmakers (an equal number from each party). It’s far better than the system we have now.
But Paul Goldman, former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, filed suit claiming that the summary wording of the amendment that will appear on the ballot is “misleading” and “inaccurate.”
The summary doesn’t instruct voters on the details of the amendment or how redistricting actually would be handled, according to Mr. Goldman: Partisan lawmakers still would control the appointments; the state Supreme Court, also politically appointed, would be the ultimate tie-breaker; and there is no guarantee that racial minority interests would be protected.
A pamphlet is available to explain such details, but he said voters aren’t reading it.
The Supreme Court of Virginia didn’t weigh in directly on these issues. It rejected the lawsuit — but on the grounds that the Department of Elections and the Board of Elections “have no role” in setting the language for the ballot question. That role resides with the General Assembly, and is largely outside the court’s purview.
We agree with Mr. Goldman that Virginians should be educated about the amendment — about anything on which they vote.
But the ballot question is already quite lengthy and fairly well detailed: “Should the Constitution of Virginia be amended to establish a redistricting commission, consisting of eight members of the General Assembly and eight citizens of the Commonwealth, that is responsible for drawing the congressional and state legislative districts that will be subsequently voted on, but not changed by, the General Assembly and enacted without the Governor’s involvement and to give the responsibility of drawing districts to the Supreme Court of Virginia if the redistricting commission fails to draw districts or the General Assembly fails to enact districts by certain deadlines?”
It’s not reasonable to go into exhaustive detail. The ballot question is supposed to be a summary — an accurate summary, but still just a summary.
It’s also worth mentioning that, after opposing gerrymandering and supporting a commission while the Republicans were in power, many Democrats are opposing it now that they’re in the majority and may have to give up their political advantage in redistricting.
They claim that Republicans would have the advantage under redistricting reform because the majority of Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republicans.
No matter which way you look at it, the suit either injected or perpetuated politics in a process that is seeking to move away from political gamesmanship.
This newspaper continues to support the redistricting amendment. We also encourage voters to be informed about the candidates and questions that will appear on the ballot.
Go to www.elections.virginia.gov/proposed-constitutional-amendment-2020 for more detail on the redistricting amendment.
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