A bill to create a new rulebook for Virginia’s political redistricting process passed a Republican-controlled House of Delegates subcommittee early Tuesday, giving anti-gerrymandering activists an incremental win as other bills they supported were struck down. A House subcommittee on elections, usually the place where redistricting bills go to die, voted 6-0 to advance a bill to set new redistricting criteria in Virginia law as state lawmakers prepare to redraw the General Assembly and congressional maps in 2021. House Bill 1598, sponsored by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, declares that districts should respect existing political boundaries between cities, counties and towns, preserve “communities of interest” and avoid the types of odd, jagged lines lawmakers from both parties have long used to gain political advantage.
The early thumbs-up for the bill filed by Jones, the influential chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, suggests smaller-scale redistricting measures could pass the legislature this year, even if they fall short of the nonpartisan, independent redistricting commission sought by many advocates.
“We applaud the chairman’s bill and we’re excited to support it,” said Brian Cannon, executive director of anti-gerrymandering group OneVirginia2021. “It’s a good bill with good criteria that we need to have as part of a fair redistricting platform.”