Political power, not racial bias, was the General Assembly’s driving force for drawing district boundaries for the House of Delegates in 2011. So goes the argument made earlier this month by lawyers for House Speaker William Howell, who is the subject of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the process. The federal court hearing the case will decide if that’s true, but we cannot help but marvel at that line of defense. Even more troubling is the notion that the argument might work. After all, using redistricting to protect incumbents and preserve political power is perfectly legal so long as race isn’t the primary determining factor. Never mind what that means for citizens, who see their communities arbitrarily divided so partisan advantage remains intact.
We need to refocus the benefit of this process back on the people, ensuring that their representation is of their choosing and not the other way around. That can only come through a system of redistricting that is removed from partisan influence and delivers a government that accurately reflects the public will.
Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District is an unconstitutional mess, a hodge-podge of communities cobbled together by state lawmakers in an attempt to minimize the voting strength of predominantly black, Democratic-leaning residents.