RICHMOND, Va. — Hours after a date was set for lawmakers to come back to the Capitol to work on redistricting maps, Gov. Ralph Northam said he will veto a map that makes it to his desk.
In June, a court ordered the Virginia House of Delegates 2011 district map to be redrawn after 11 districts were found to be unconstitutional due to racially gerrymandering. That means the district lines were drawn in a way that divided voters by race. The deadline set by the court to have the map finished is October 30.
Gov. Northam called a second special session in August so delegates could get to work on this. At that point, one map was produced by the Democrats, sponsored by Del. Lamont Bagby (D – District 74).
Ahead of the House Privileges and Elections Committee meeting last Thursday, two Republicans submitted two proposals. A plan by Del. Chris Jones (R – District 76) passed on a party-line vote. Delegates agreed to discuss the plan again when they return to Richmond.
Watching this process, Gov. Northam said in a statement that he understands and appreciates the efforts to make these maps, “however, the nature of the August 30th and September 27th proceedings in the House Privileges and Elections Committee reinforced my belief that this partisan process should not continue and that the federal court is best positioned to construct a remedial districting plan.
Given this conviction, I must unequivocally state that I will veto House Bill 7003 should it reach my desk.”
Six hours before the Governor’s announcement, House Speaker Kirk Cox called lawmakers back for a special session on October 21. Cox says Republican leadership is still willing to work on a plan.
“Our offer still stands. In the coming days, we will evaluate whether there are any alternative pathways and the necessity of meeting as scheduled on October 21,” Cox said in a statement.
If lawmakers and the Governor can’t agree on a map by October 30, then the court could appoint an independent party to make one.
Signaling how this could impact the 2019 election, Cox went on to say, “the governor has admitted at last that he wants federal judges appointed by President Obama to draw a redistricting map to deliver a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates.”
Democratic leadership says they stand by the governor’s decision to vote the latest plan brought forward by Republicans.
“We must remain focused on the real issue, which is that 11 House districts were racially gerrymandered to reduce the voting power of black Virginians. The Republicans’ proposed map does not fix this violation of the Voting Rights Act, and I stand by the Governor’s decision to veto HB 7003,” Del. Lamont Bagby, the sponsor of the initial redistricting plan HB 7001, said.
The governor urges lawmakers to draft a constitutional amendment that creates a path for nonpartisan redistricting.
“I hope legislators from both parties and in both chambers will come to the table in the 2019 session to propose and adopt an amendment to enshrine nonpartisan redistricting in the Virginia Constitution. I will support this effort and engage when appropriate to reinforce the fundamentals of fairness, which are lacking in the current process,” Gov. Northam said in a statement.
A constitutional amendment would have to be approved during the 2019 session in order to take effect before the next redistricting maps are made, after the 2020 census.