Virginia’s state lawmakers won’t be able to draw their own districts without some input from the public anymore.
Nearly two-thirds of Virginian voters approved Question 1, which establishes a bipartisan redistricting commission to redraw state and federal legislative districts after this year’s census. Previously, the governor and the Virginia General Assembly handled the once-per-decade redistricting.
The new commission will include eight legislators and eight citizens, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Each new map—one for the state’s congressional districts, one for the state Senate, and one for the state House of Delegates—requires the approval of at least 12 commissioners, including six of the legislators and six of the citizens. The latter two types of districts also require a majority of the senators or delegates, respectively, to approve the proposed districts.
The change comes after a legal battle over the maps drawn in 2011, which federal courts ruled unconstitutional for packing black voters into specific congressional districts. The districts were redrawn by a special representative appointed by the courts.
Republicans proposed the redistricting commission after Democrats took control of the state government in 2018, but support for the initiative cuts across party lines. The Virginia Democratic Party and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus were opposed to the amendment, but some prominent Democrats, such as former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, endorsed the proposal. So did Sen. Tim Kaine (D–Va.) and several voting rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters.
This is part of a broader trend toward redistricting reform across the country. The Cook Political Report reports that there are already 125 congressional districts whose borders are drawn in either a nonpartisan or a bipartisan fashion, through similar commissions.
Those commissions have a mixed record when it comes to solving the self-interested problems of gerrymandering. Still, including the public in the process makes it less likely that lawmakers are picking their voters instead of the other way around.