Editorial: Power grab
Last week in the Virginia Senate, the Republicans steamrolled a redistricting plan through that august body on a strictly partisan vote. What was first proposed as a series of "technical adjustments" to boundary lines for House of Delegates’ districts, was amended without notice to create significant changes in state Senate districts—changes beneficial to Republicans seeking election.
It’s the kind of partisan power grab that can turn the most optimistic voter into a devout cynic. Such actions seem more appropriate for some third-world despot than the men and women of the world’s oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere.
The evenly divided chamber took advantage of the absence of Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond), who was attending the presidential inauguration, to push through the vote in the Assembly’s upper chamber. The House of Delegates has yet to act on the measure. The bill would also have to be signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has said that the vote wasn’t "a good way to do business," but did not indicate whether he would support the legislation if it was placed on his desk.
Redistricting is traditionally done every 10 years to reflect population shifts identified in the U.S. Census. That work had been done in 2011 and should have only been revisited after the 2020 Census.
Virginia should remove its legislators, as much as possible, from the redistricting process. Iowa is an example of how to do it. Rather than a special commission or legislative committee, the non-partisan Iowa Legislative Service Agency is responsible for drawing the lines.
No political information is taken into account. For Congressional redistricting, they are not allowed to split counties. For state-level redistricting, counties and cities should be split as little as possible. Although the plan must be approved by Iowa’s governor and General Assembly, since the process was enacted in 1980, Iowa has not experienced the partisan gridlock all too familiar in Virginia.