Despite criticism from within the party that the move would be seen as blatantly partisan as well as bad policy, the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s membership on Aug. 6 voted to oppose the state constitutional amendment that, if enacted, would set up an independent redistricting commission.
After vocal but civil debate conducted in an online platform, the Democratic rank-and-file first voted (with 68.7 percent in favor) to take a position on the matter, then voted (with 78 percent of those voting) to oppose the ballot initiative.
“There’s passion on both sides,” acknowledged party chair Jill Caiazzo, saying the discussion and voting had been “as open and fair as it could be.”
Caiazzo intimated her hope that views on the matter, which had been running high in some quarters, would cool.
“The debate is done – let us move forward,” Caiazzo said after the totals were announced.
Voters on Nov. 3 will be asked to amend the constitution and set up an independent commission that will have the power – albeit not unlimited power – to determine congressional and legislative districts statewide.
For a constitutional amendment to make it on the ballot, it must be approved by both houses of the legislature twice, with an election in between.
The redistricting proposal was first approved in 2019, when Republicans controlled the Senate and House of Delegates, on a relatively bipartisan vote. In 2020, when Democrats had taken control of both houses, enough Democrats voted with Republicans to pass the measure. (Virginia governors cannot veto legislation placing constitutional amendments on the ballot, so the view of Gov. Northam on the matter was not a factor in play.)
Some Democratic lawmakers and party leaders have been leading an effort to defeat the measure, saying it represents half-steps and should be made stronger before being enshrined in the state constitution. Critics of that position have suggested that, now that they hold power in Richmond after an absence of two decades, Democrats suddenly have abandoned their longstanding calls for non-partisan redistricting.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch, the latest in a number of large Virginia newspapers backing the redistricting amendment, recently ripped “Democratic insiders” to trying to derail the proposal.
While the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s sample ballot handed to voters at the polls often influences results in the county, it is not all-powerful. In 2012, the party opposed a state constitutional amendment strengthening rights of property owners against governmental use of eminent-domain powers, but Arlington voters (and those statewide) supported the measure by healthy margins.
In September, the Arlington County Democratic Committee will take up the second constitutional amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot, permitting exemption from vehicle taxes for those with military-service-connected disabilities.
Virginia’s current constitution, the state’s fifth or seventh (depending on who is doing the counting) since 1776, went into effect in 1971. Since 1996, there have been 31 amendments sent to Virginia voters, with 27 adopted, according to the Encyclopedia of American Politics.
Unlike some states, Virginia does not allow citizen-led referendums at the state level; all constitutional amendments must be approved by the General Assembly before being sent to voters.
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