Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Gerrymander Hustle

Time isn’t the problem, says Coalition. Assembly should heed the public and take up alternatives.

With the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates hustling to approve their own gerrymandered new political maps, the non-partisan Virginia Redistricting Coalition urged lawmakers to stop and heed the voices of citizens who at every public hearing demanded that they do a better job.

“Time isn’t the problem — that’s just an admission that they aren’t listening to anybody,” said C. Douglas Smith, director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and chairman of the Virginia Redistricting Coalition. “Politicians are gerrymandering their districts so the party in power will keep winning. They’re trying to cheat voters out of having any real choice in elections.”

Coalition leaders called on legislators to pay attention to the impartial alternative redistricting plans presented by the winners of the Virginia College and University Redistricting Competition and the Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

“It’s not too late,” said John Stone, a member of the board of The Future of Hampton Roads Inc., a regional business organization and Coalition member. “The student plans were made public a full week before the committees brought their own maps out from behind closed doors. The alternatives in the Advisory Commission report were developed in public sessions and presented before the Assembly reconvened on Monday. There’s plenty of time to get this right, because this is the electoral map we’ll all be living with for the next ten years.”

“It’s a shame to say, but none of the maps that are before the General Assembly right now would have won the competition,” said Brian Cannon, a member of the College of William and Mary Law School team whose redistricting plan was a winner in the student competition. He is a board member of Virginia 21, another member of the Virginia Redistricting Coalition.

Compared with the bills gathering speed in the Assembly, the student maps and the maps in the advisory commission report split fewer cities and counties into separate legislative districts and do a better job of preserving communities of interest in the same districts. At a public hearing on Monday, Larry Haake, president of the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia, told the Assembly committees in charge of redistricting that all those split boundaries could cost local taxpayers up to $6.7 million as they were required to adjust local voting precincts. Haake said the changes could cost up to $1 million in Chesterfield County alone, where he is registrar.

“Why hold these public hearings if they’re not going to listen?” asked Nancy Finch, president of the Richmond First Club, one of the civic organizations in the Coalition. “People around the state told the committees that they want districts that respect local boundaries and keep communities of interest together, not ones that tilt the elections to one party or the other. And this is no time to add more costs to local taxpayers.”

The Virginia Redistricting Coalition is a statewide group of organizations and individuals who advocate bipartisan redistricting reform.

The Virginia College and University Redistricting Competition winning maps are available online at http://www.varedistrictingcompetition.org/results.

The Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting report is available online at http://redistrictingcommission.cnu.edu/Final_Redistricting_Commission_Report.pdf.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Politics, State Politics

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