“Virginia’s redistricting commission’s failure to transcend partisanship has lessons for other states, critics say”


The failure to reach agreement on any maps, with time running out to reconvene,marks a stunning departure from the type of redistricting overhaul voters sought when they approved the commission last year. While voters and advocates hoped to end gerrymandering, instead what they got was a stalemate, as commissioners gridlocked along party lines almost every step of the way. Even as commissioners acknowledged that partisanship had fatally infected their deliberations, none appeared willing to set their partisan preferences aside — raising questions about whether it is even possible in such a divisive environment for two parties to agree on the meaning of a politically fair map….

Republicans in the General Assembly pushed the creation of the bipartisan redistricting commission just before losing the majority in 2019. Under the amendment, the commission is composed of eight legislators and eight citizens, evenly divided by party, and its members are appointed by the General Assembly’s Democratic and Republican leadership. But Democrats, while initially receptive to the overhaul, ultimately splintered.

The process was “doomed from the start,” said the nonpartisan Cook Political Report’s redistricting expert Dave Wasserman….

The amendment also required a supermajority of citizens and legislators to pass a map, which the architects intended to prevent any one group from having too much sway. ButWasserman argued the commission’s fatal flaw was the decision to forgo creating any kind of tiebreaking mechanism, such as the inclusion of third-party or self-described independents on the commission. (Virginia does not require party registration.) Other states would be wise to avoid that problem, he said.

“It’s a fool’s errand to believe that partisans appointed by party leaders are going to get in a room and hash out their differences to draw a map that neither party fully likes,” Wasserman said. “Unless there’s some mechanism for breaking a tie in favor of one party or the other, which New Jersey has, which Arizona has, which Montana has, there is never a chance of success.”

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