Redistricting process creates gridlock

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Print this page Jessica Sabbath

When a House of Delegates subcommittee tabled redistricting reform last week, it essentially protected the tradition of gerrymandered districts in Virginia for the next 10 years.

In the 2011 session, the legislature will redraw legislative and congressional districts based on population estimates from the 2010 Census. But when partisan incumbents hold the drawing pen, these districts are created to benefit themselves rather than Virginians.

This situation helps keep moderates out of the legislature, impeding progress in the General Assembly and dampening voter participation. These carefully drawn districts are designed to keep incumbents safe, meaning that typically the most conservative and liberal legislators are elected. Not only does this make progress and compromise more difficult, it marginalizes voters.

Take transportation as an example. Democrats says new revenue from taxes and fees is necessary to help fix Virginia’s aging transportation network But many Republicans come from conservative districts where any support for those measures could mean stiff competition in the next election. That means the parties remain far apart on compromise. Perhaps more moderate legislators would be able to better broker a deal.

Ten incumbents were defeated in the 2009 House of Delegates elections. But this is a rare example of competition in delegate races. In elections held between 2000 and 2008, only 10 incumbents total had lost.

More districts in the commonwealth should host competitive districts.  Competition would improve voter engagement and create districts that are better representative of Virginia’s citizens and businesses.

The best way to achieve that goal is to prevent politicians from choosing their voters.

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