Could Non-partisan Redistricting Reduce Political Gridlock? - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Could Non-partisan Redistricting Reduce Political Gridlock?

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When lawmakers disagree, no one wins.

That couldn't be more true right now, amid uncertainty at the state Capitol. Virginia's leaders are locked in a stalemate over the state budget, and whether to expand Medicaid health coverage to thousands of low-income Virginians who don't qualify and can't afford private insurance.

According to lawmakers, this is at least the third time in a decade they have been unable to come to terms on a major issue, as the deadline to pass a state budget - June 30th - looms on the horizon. It has many asking, how can we prevent more gridlock in the future?

Some say changing the way Virginia draws its district lines could help solve the problem. Right now, redistricting is controlled by the party in power and revisited after every census.

Many believe this system lends itself to "gerrymandering," when the majority party uses its advantage to redraw district lines in their favor. Rather than you choosing your representative, critics say this amounts to representatives choosing their voters.

A new group of business and political leaders announced last month is working to stamp out gerrymandering in Virginia, by lobbying for the creation of a non-partisan redistricting commission. They call themselves "One Virginia 2021."

"It's time to get away from gridlock and one way to do that is to have a fair redistricting process open to the public which will create districts which probably are competitive," said Charlottesville attorney Leigh Middleditch, founder of One Virginia 2021.

State Senator Creigh Deeds - (D) 25th - also thinks redistricting reform could help avoid stalemate scenarios.

"Non-partisan redistricting, bipartisan redistricting, I think we just need to be able to move the ball forward," Deeds said.

But others disagree, blaming the most recent disagreement over Medicaid expansion on the Executive Mansion's newest tenant, Governor Terry McAuliffe.

"The governor has decided to include a very contentious issue in the budget, Medicaid expansion, and then he's refusing to sign a budget that doesn't include what he's asking for," said Del. Rob Bell - (R) 58th. "That's why we're having the gridlock. We could settle everything else and have a separate, standalone vote."

Analysts say non-partisan redistricting could help create more even political districts, but it's not a silver bullet.

"Voters are in a better position to actually choose their representatives," said UVA political analyst Geoff Skelley. "But I don't think non-partisan redistricting solves the problems of polarization and gridlock."

The House of Delegates passed its version of the state's two-year, $97 billion budget earlier this week, with Medicaid expansion predictably absent from the proposal. The Senate has yet to advance its budget; finance committee members will return April 1 to finalize their proposal.

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