Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Virginia Eyeing Redistricting Reform

From The Roanoke (VA) Times:
A coalition of Virginia political leaders said Tuesday that the partisan split between the Senate and House of Delegates offers a historic chance to pass a bill to overhaul the once-a-decade process that sets state and federal legislative districts.

Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, endorsed legislation in the Virginia Senate that would create a seven-member bipartisan redistricting commission to draw new state and federal legislative districts based only on population -- not on past election results or the addresses of incumbents or potential candidates.
The bill, SB 38, will create a commission of 5, one commissioner each appointed by the House and Senate Majority and Minority leaders. The fout appointed commissioners will then select a chairman from a pool of 24 retired judges. The commission will create a plan which is then submitted to the General Assembly. The first two times the General Assembly can outright accept or reject the plan. On the third submission, the Assembly can begin tinkering with the lines. Here the guidelines for redistricting:
1. All districts shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be as equal in population as is practicable and in compliance with federal law. No district shall be composed of territory contiguous only at a point.

2. All districts shall be drawn to comply with the Virginia and United State Constitutions, federal law, the federal Voting Rights Act as amended, and relevant case law.

3. All districts, to the extent practicable, shall respect the boundary lines of existing political subdivisions. More populous subdivisions shall be divided between or among districts before less populous subdivisions are divided, excluding those subdivisions that straddle the boundary line of geographically larger subdivisions. The number of counties and cities divided among multiple districts shall be as few as practicable.

4. All districts shall encompass communities of interest to the extent practicable.

5. No district shall be drawn with consideration for the impact on incumbent legislators, members of Congress, or known candidates for office.

6. No district shall be drawn to promote, or for the purpose of favoring, the interests of a political party.

7. All district boundaries shall be drawn to promote competitiveness to the extent practicable; however, no district shall be made artificially competitive in violation of other Standards.

8. All district boundaries shall be drawn to maintain the core geographical areas of existing districts, to the extent not in conflict with other Standards.
These criteria are quite similar to an Arizona Constitutional Amendment regarding redistricting. The problem with both Arizona and Viriginia is that they are both on the Pre-Clearance list for teh Justice Department and Arizona had problems with the last round of redistricting because of issues related to the dilution of Latino and Indian voters. Virginia may have similar problems with black voters.

Still the effort is underway to remove, as much as possible, the influence of the raw naked partisanship of traditional redistricting.

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