Richmond Times-Dispatch

Citizen members

- — Pamela Stallsmith

In November, Virginia voters overwhelmi­ng endorsed changing the way the state draws legislativ­e and congressio­nal boundaries. Now it’s time for citizens to step up and join the action.

This election, Virginians voted 2-1 in favor of amending the state Constituti­on to create a bipartisan commission that will be charged with redistrict­ing. No longer will the decennial map drawing be decided by lawmakers in the back rooms of the state Capitol, out of public sight and away from citizen scrutiny.

The 16-member panel will consist of eight lawmakers and eight citizens, and be led by a citizen chair. Its deliberati­ons will include public hearings held across the state and open meetings. This week, leaders of the General Assembly named its members— four from each party, four from each chamber.

Citizens can apply to join the Virginia Redistrict­ing Commission through Dec. 28. They must be Virginia residents and registered voters, have voted in at least two of the past three general elections and not have held political office, among the criteria.

More details and how to apply are available at the redistrict­ing portion of the Division of Legislativ­e Services website: https://redistrict­ing.dls.virginia.gov

Legislativ­e leaders from both parties in the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates will create short lists of citizen applicants who they want to serve on the commission, the RTD reported. Final selections will be made by a panel of five retired circuit court judges who agreed to serve in the role, created with the input of legislativ­e leaders from both parties.

The selection committee, according to the website, “is required to ensure that the makeup of the commission is representa­tive of the racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity of the commonweal­th.” The judges have until Jan. 15 to pick the citizen members, and the first meeting of the full commission must be held by Feb. 1.

Its work will begin in earnest once the state receives the results of the 2020 census and, wehope, be ready for the fall 2021 elections— when all 100 House seats will be on the ballot. Final approval rests with the assembly, though lawmakers can’t alter the maps. If there’s an impasse, the Supreme Court of Virginia will have the final say.

The new approach to redistrict­ing holds promise for greater accountabi­lity. It can only be an improvemen­t over past efforts, which lacked transparen­cy, resulted in costly lawsuits and emboldened partisan gerrymande­ring. If you want to be part of the redistrict­ing solution, here’s your chance: Apply to become a citizen member.

 ?? BOB BROWN/TIMES-DISPATCH ?? A Capitol Police officer stood on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol in April during the legislativ­e veto session. Members of the House of Delegates met outside in a tent instead of the chamber because of the coronaviru­s pandemic.
BOB BROWN/TIMES-DISPATCH A Capitol Police officer stood on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol in April during the legislativ­e veto session. Members of the House of Delegates met outside in a tent instead of the chamber because of the coronaviru­s pandemic.

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