A student organized a panel discussion on Virginia’s gerrymandering problem

Photo by Casey Cole.

Virginia is one of the worst gerrymandered states in the country, according to One Virginia 2021, a coalition dedicated to fair, non-partisan redistricting. Gerrymandering is used by both Democrats and Republicans to increase their chance of re-election in their district.

More than 100 students and faculty attended an event on gerrymandering April 12, organized and moderated by Seth Middlecoop, a political science major.

The event sought to inform students on how gerrymandering works, what it is and why politicians do it, according to Middlecoop. He said gerrymandering is an important issue that limits the voices of voters.

“If you can’t really vote for who you want — if it’s drawn to always go to a Democrat or a Republican — it kind of limits your voice in that perspective,” Middlecoop said.

Panelists at the event included Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg), Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), political science professor John Aughenbaugh and Brian Cannon, executive director of One Virginia 2021.

“Gerrymandering is often easy to identify when looking at state district maps,” Cannon said. “Most districts are carved out to the current elected official. Some of these lines are abstract art that should be in the ICA.”

The speakers agreed redistricting should be done by independent groups. Cannon said making redistricting decisions transparent will help minimize the possibility of gerrymandering.

“If we bring these shady, backdoor deals to light, less of these deals will be done,” Cannon said. “If you’re not changing the legislators in the seats, you’re changing how those legislatures act.”

Dunnavant said the problem may be solved with collaboration between legislators. However, she said many regions are so closely divided on certain issues that it is extremely difficult to represent those areas through equal redistricting.

“There is no perfect answer, or we would already be there,” Dunnavant said.

Attendee Malena Llanos said she now knows gerrymandering is something that happens on both sides of the aisle.

According to Middlecoop, the best way for students to make an impact on this issue comes down to one word.

“Activism,” Middlecoop said. “Write to your congressman and to the Virginia General Assembly, and help there to be legislation passed for the future.”

The next US census will take place in 2020. District maps around the country will be re-evaluated and changed accordingly in 2021.

Logan Reardon, Contributing Writer


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