Editors’ Note: See the following previous VoxFairfax articles on redistricting in Virginia: https://voxfairfax.com/2018/08/19/one-person-one-vote-in-congressional-elections/; https://voxfairfax.com/2019/07/08/virginias-path-to-one-person-one-vote-faces-dangers/; and https://voxfairfax.com/2019/04/22/landmark-redistricting-reform-passed-in-virginia/.
On March 6, the Virginia House of Delegates, on a vote of 54-46, agreed to a Senate bill placing a constitutional referendum on the November ballot to create an independent redistricting commission to eliminate partisan gerrymandering.
While Democrats have for decades sufffered the slings and arrows of GOP control of drawing district boundaries, the new Democratic majority came close to blowing its advantage. Only nine Democrats of the majority of 55 voted in favor of the amendment, leaving its passage to the support of the Republican minority.
Up until passage, the amendment was in jeopardy and some advocates began to suspect that a few in the majority favored allowing new district maps in 2020 to be drawn by the legislature as payback to years of Republican domination.
Since the opening session of the General Assembly in January, a number of key Democrats began to voice criticisms of the provisions of the legislation and found some support from Eric Holder, President Obama’s former Attorney General, who now leads a national redistricting advocacy organization. Up until passage, the amendment was in jeopardy and some advocates began to suspect that a few in the majority favored allowing new district maps in 2020 to be drawn by the legislature as payback to years of Republican domination. Another cohort of Democrats advocated the Hobson’s choice of accepting some improvement and arguing for fixes by way of enabling legislation. The interests of the electorate, which propelled the Democratic majority, were lost in an ideological clamor. By a margin of 8 votes, an advance in democratic principle survived.
In contrast, at the same time, the very same Democratic majority in the House failed to advance legislation to include Virginia in the National Popular Vote Initiative, a proposal to reflect election of the President and Vice President by popular vote.
In contrast, at the same time, the very same Democratic majority in the House failed to advance legislation to include Virginia in the National Popular Vote Initiative, a proposal to reflect election of the President and Vice President by popular vote. The two offices are, under the Constitution, the sole national officers that are the object of the electorates in the 50 state jurisdictions. However, due to the structural distortion of the Constitution’s electoral system, in 2016, one candidate with a 3-million-vote margin over the other was not made President. This result vitiated the principle of one person, one vote, and continues to remain a barrier to exercising a national mandate for any candidate elected President with less than a majority of the popular vote. The result also contributes to political divisions in civic culture, in some cases contributing to pleas for secession.
While many continue to favor the Electoral College system, some due to nostalgia, some employing an argument of republicanism, far fewer can adequately explain the details of how a multi-million-vote margin results in a losing candidate. Most analyses, including defense of the Electoral College, ultimately acknowledge that the system favors minority or less populated geographic areas over more populous ones. Since, however, the offices of President and Vice President are national in scope and substance, artificial state boundaries determining electoral authority are not only anachronisms but contravene the arc of democratic evolution that has characterized the United States since women’s suffrage, slave suffrage, and direct election of US Senators.
Notwithstanding a Democratic majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, one reform nearly perished and another was kicked down the road. This failure to exercise the majority mandate of a group of candidates elected for purposes of those reforms is astonishing. Not exactly a banner day for either the Commonwealth’s electorate or the Democratic party. Given the trauma of the Clinton loss (and the Gore loss in 2000) despite a popular vote victory, the failure of Virginia Dems to take action is all the more puzzling. It will be interesting to see the extent of support and public statements from members of the majority as the ballot referendum ensues. Give us your muddled mass majority, yearning to be reelected.