The University of Virginia's Bureau of Public Administration – a predecessor of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service – was inaugurated in 1924. Its publication, The Virginia News Letter, was devoted to bringing attention to the public policy issues that effect constituents in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Currently, it is issued six to eight times per year. In the most recent edition – 27 June 2014 – are the results of a study that examines the process of legislative redistricting in Virginia. The title of the article is, "With Overwhelming Support for Nonpartisan Redistricting, Virginians are Studying Ways to Make That Happen."
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, at their website, provides the following explanation:
“Legislative redistricting is the process by which the district boundaries are redrawn in order to maintain equal representation on the basis of population.
Article 1, Section 2, of the United States Constitution requires that a Census be taken every 10 years for the purpose of apportioning the United States House of Representatives. Census results are used to determine the number of congressional seats apportioned to each state. After the 2000 federal Census, Pennsylvania had 19 members in the U.S. House of Representatives. Following the 2010 federal Census, Pennsylvania has 18 members of the U.S. House. More information on the Census is available at census.gov.
In addition to being used as a basis for apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Census data is also used in Congressional and Legislative redistricting."
The study – which takes a look at a number of states whose constituents prefer a redistricting process that is more non-partisan – also took a closer look at the policy in Virginia, of allowing politicians to create their own districts in order to favor incumbent candidates:
"Short of a constitutional amendment, the only option would be for lawmakers to choose to consult with outside line-drawing experts in a nonbinding way. This of course is not something they have shown much interest in doing in the past.”
Any amendments to the constitution must be proposed by one of the houses of the General Assembly, passed by both houses, deferred to the next session after a House of Delegates election, passed yet again by the new General Assembly, then added to the ballot of the next election for citizens to approve before the amendment finally would be inserted into the constitution. The General Assembly can take an equally complicated route by calling a constitutional convention by a two-thirds vote that would allow them to hold elections statewide for delegates, who would then vote on revisions to the constitution ..."
Also featured in the study were the attitudes of voters in Virginia, among a statistically-significant sample. The authors of the article that serves as an introduction to the study – Benjamin Harris, former research associate at the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies, and Stephen J. Farnsworth, a professor of political science at UMW– point out, that partisan redistricting in Virginia helps explain the discrepancy between the party vote totals, statewide and the actual party representation in the House of Delegates.
One of the reasons for reconsidering the redistricting process at present is that there are computer programs that can now create districts based only on party affiliation; and since this phenomenon can theoretically effect either party, both parties are vulnerable.
There are some groups of constituents who have already understand that, recognizing an interest in seeing that each vote – each of our votes – will count for something, and not merely be subject to some kind of 'gaming principle,' when so much is at stake that requires more than superficial thought or political sentiment. A number of efforts toward improving the process are under way now in Virginia, and in other states.
“By large margins, Virginians don’t like the idea of politicians creating their own legislative districts. The once-a-decade exercise known as redistricting, which next rolls around in 2021, is a powerful tool for lawmakers to keep themselves and their party in office. When a district is obviously drawn just for that purpose, the process is known as gerrymandering.”
In their article, the authors add:
“Virginians have strong doubts about self-serving redistricting, Harris and Farnsworth write. By a margin of 74 percent to 15 percent, with the rest undecided, state residents said in a University of Mary Washington survey last year that an independent board – not the state legislature – should draw the boundaries of state legislative and congressional districts.
In all parts of the state, a strong majority of the 1,004 Virginians surveyed said they wanted a nonpartisan line-drawing authority. Even Republicans, who benefited more than Democrats in 2011 from aggressive partisan line-drawing nationwide and in Virginia, objected to giving district-drawing power to the state legislature. Among those Virginians polled who said they generally supported the GOP, only 19 percent said they wanted lawmakers to create their own legislative boundaries.”
Leigh Middleditch, cofounder of Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership -- which promotes ethics in politics and political campaigns, now heads a key bipartisan group dedicated to inspiring a statewide dialogue about gerrymandering. The group is called “OneVirginia2021," and should allow ample time for citizens of the Commonwealth to engage in discussion and debate well-ahead of the next redustructubg process.