By Zach England
Both proposed amendments to the Virginia Constitution on the ballot are on the way to becoming the law of the Commonwealth as of Wednesday afternoon, according to results published by the State Election Board.
The first proposed amendment has almost 66 percent support with 34 percent opposed and 98 percent of precincts counted as of 2 p.m. Wednesday. It would create a bipartisan commission of legislators and citizens. They would redraw the voting districts in 2021 and every decade that follows.
Traditionally, the General Assembly draws the maps. The Assembly consists of a 100-member House of Delegates and a 40-member Senate. The party in control usually seeks to tailor districts to their advantage in order to hold onto power for the next 10 years.
The proposal is the latest in a long-running battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2011, after the 2010 census, Virginia redrew legislative districts for the State’s Senate, House of Delegates, and U.S. House seats.
Following the redistricting, voters in 12 state legislative districts sued two state agencies and four election officials for drawing unfair district boundaries. That set off several appeals that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court twice. The final court ruling came in 2018. It determined that 11 of the districts were sorted unconstitutionally by race.
Supporters say the bill could help make elections fairer. It could avoid future problems with gerrymandering, the practice of manipulating district boundaries to give one party an advantage. Often it is based on racial demographics.
Most opposition in the General Assembly comes from the House Democrats, where they currently hold a majority of the seats. If the amendment is approved, the Democrats would have less of a say in redistricting next year than they would under current law.
Opponents also worry the amendment could give too much power to the state’s judicial branch. It has a final say if the citizens and legislators can’t reach consensus on the map.
The second constitutional amendment has an even larger lead, with about 86 percent support and would give veterans with service-connected disabilities tax cuts on their cars and trucks.
Voters approved a similar amendment in 2018 to give property tax exemptions to surviving spouses of veterans with service-related disabilities.