In the 2014 election, most North Carolinians had no real say in who would represent them in Raleigh.
By Joshua Gunn and Kaitlyn Oakley
Published: Jan. 20, 2015
It is well acknowledged that the right to vote is the basis for American democracy. One of the main reasons Americans revolted in the Revolutionary War was to fight to have the right to a truly democratic, representative government. But do we really have the right to elect a representative government when given no choice in candidates?
In the 2014 election, 47 percent – nearly half – of N.C. General Assembly candidates ran completely unopposed. That means the only steps these members had to take to secure their seats were to file paperwork and pay the filing fee.
Even worse, an additional 40 percent of legislative candidates ran in noncompetitive elections in which they won their race by a double-digit margin. Only 8 percent of state legislators ran in what is considered a competitive election, in which they won by 5 percentage points or less.
Just 8 percent of legislative candidates ran in truly competitive races in 2014. The other 92 percent were either unopposed or won by double-digit margins.
Often times, the factors behind state legislators running unopposed and in noncompetitive races are things like voter apathy and disinterest in local elections, but these statistics are too high to attribute solely to indifference.
Gerrymandering, the redrawing of voting maps in order to ensure that the political party in power stays in power, is the culprit robbing North Carolinians of their right to elect a representative legislature.
By drawing congressional and legislative districts to lump citizens that usually vote for the party in power together, gerrymandering makes some votes count more than others (or not at all).
When the party in power succeeds in rigging the elections in their favor, they generally will pose a more viable threat to the people because they can pass their agenda unopposed. Opposition is important to creating and sustaining a true democracy because it creates a space for compromise. Gerrymandering threatens the ability of people to elect a truly representative democracy.
Right now, the North Carolina Constitution allows state legislators to consider party affiliation of citizens when drawing voter districts based on census results. This obviously creates an environment that encourages gerrymandering. We need redistricting reform now; we cannot allow the continuation of noncompetitive, unfair elections in which some votes count more than others.
Nonpartisan groups across North Carolina have been advocating for a redistricting reform bill that would effectively make elections fairer and more competitive within the bounds of the State Constitution.
In April 2013, House Bill 606 was introduced in the legislature but ultimately died before it even reached committee. The bill would have created a nonpartisan Temporary Redistricting Advisory Committee that would draw districts based on population only. The districts would then be sent to the state legislature for approval. These districts would need to comply with all federal and state regulations as well as meet certain requirements such as equal population and fluidity of boundaries.
These same nonpartisan groups that supported House Bill 606 are now working to reintroduce the same standards in a new bill in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Considering that a majority of House members on both sides of the aisle worked to co-sponsor the bill in 2013, these nonpartisan groups hope to see action taken in 2015.
Twenty-three of the newly elected General Assembly members have already openly supported independent redistricting reform. Both parties will benefit from a redistricting reform bill because it will create a less political redistricting process.
To find out how you can help advocate for redistricting reform in North Carolina visit EndGerrymanderingNow.org or contact your local representative to ask about their stance on redistricting reform. North Carolinians deserve a choice in their elections.
Joshua Gunn is a student at N.C. State University and Kaitlyn Oakley is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. They both served as interns at Common Cause North Carolina, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to encouraging citizen participation in democracy.
bobcesca- the daily banter
Posted on Oct 22, 2014by Doug Clark
State Reps. Jon Hardister and Pricey Harrison joined election reform advocate Jane Pinsky to make a compelling presentation on redistricting to the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad yesterday.
Hardister, a Republican, and Harrison, a Democrat, are strong supporters of nonpartisan redistricting.
Pinsky heads the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. An obstacle to progress is gerrymandering, which insulates Republicans and Democrats from effective challenges in their districts.
Voting in this year’s elections hasn’t begun yet, but 79 state legislative seats already have been decided, Pinsky said. And most others are all but predetermined. “The parties have manipulated lines to keep themselves in power,” Pinsky said.
Hardister said gerrymandering hasn’t made sense to him since he studied the practice as a political science major at Greensboro College.
Even though his party is in power now, and drew the current lines to its advantage, he supports a plan to take the politics out.
“It’s about good government. It’s about giving more power to the people,” he said.
With more competitive districts, “maybe it would bring the parties together a little.”
Harrison elaborated on that point. Because districts are packed with Democratic voters or Republican voters, legislators really only have to be concerned about challenges in party primaries — Democrats from the left and Republicans from the right. It polarizes how they behave in office. That’s true in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the state legislature.
“People from districts where they’re pretty sure they’re going to be re-elected don’t have to compromise,” Pinsky said.
The state House passed a nonpartisan redistricting bill in 2011 but it never moved out of a Senate committee. In 2013, the same bill had 61 co-sponsors — a majority — but never was brought to the floor for a vote. There was no point because Senate leaders signaled they weren’t interested.
That’s no reason not to keep trying. Pinsky’s group is pushing for a new bill to be introduced in the House next year. It lets nonpartisan legislative staff draw congressional and legislative districts. Districts would have to be compact and contiguous and not drawn to favor an incumbent or political party. Legislators would get an up-or-down vote on the plans submitted to them.
To create confidence that neither party could reverse this process, the bill would put the measure on a statewide referendum in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment.
Chances are it would pass easily.
Hardister borrowed a description that’s been used many times: voters aren’t choosing their representatives; the representatives are choosing their voters.
It’s past time to restore real democracy to North Carolina.
Contact editorial writer Doug Clark at (336) 373-7039 and dgclark@News-Record.com.
FROM WFDD radio
By PAUL GARBER
The State Board of Election reports that 14 races across the state were so close that they’re currently undergoing recounts. For the most part, though, close races were the exception this year.
Most legislative seats were either uncontested or won by landslide margins. Wednesday, WFDD reported that critics on both sides of the political spectrum are making renewed attacks on gerrymandering.
Today, we talked to one of the architects of the electoral maps, who says the maps are both legal and fair. State Sen. Bob Rucho says none of the candidates would have won without swaying unaffiliated voters.
Rucho says that the high number of one-sided elections this year has more to do with candidates having the right message for undecided voters than it did with redistricting.
“I’m saying these maps aren’t gerrymandered,” he says. “It was a matter of what the candidates actually was able to tell the voters and if the voters agreed with them. Why would you call that uncompetitive?”
Democrats had drawn the electoral boundaries for decades, but Republicans took over when they came into power following the 2010 mid-term. Rucho says they were following strict court-ordered guidelines when drawing the map to ensure equal representation. Redistricting data and maps can be found at the General Assembly’s redistricting page.
He says the Democrats would have been forced to draw similar lines had they done the redistricting. Rucho says the lines the Republicans drew weren’t very different from the previous maps. You can see the state senate map that the Democrats drew in 2003 here.
Rucho says the maps aren’t gerrymandered – a term for districts that are drawn to give one side an advantage. But critics disagree. Bloggers for the Washington Post determined North Carolina’s current map to be the one of the most gerrymandered in the country.
So how might the lines look different if they weren’t based on political decisions? Two Duke University researchers decided to do the math to find out.
John Mattingly is a Duke University math professor. Christy Vaughn is a senior math major. They created district maps that followed the law by keeping the maps compact and evenly distributing the population. But they ignored race and party affiliation. They ran more than 100 tests, and the results were consistent.
“The most likely outcome was that seven or eight of the 13 seats were filled by Democrats,” Mattingly said. That’s a different result than the official outcome of the election, in which democrats only won four seats.
There are a few things to keep in mind. Vaughn and Mattingly were looking at U.S. Congressional races, not state legislative races that WFDD analyzed for this series. Also, they focused on the 2012 election, which had a higher voter turnout and a larger proportion of Democrat voters.
Mattingly says the results has important implications for how maps are drawn.
“If we really want our elections to reflect the will of the people, then I think we have to put in safeguards to protect our democracy so redistrictings don’t end up so biased that they essentially fix the elections before they get started,” he says.
Vaughn says the next step is to compare their maps to district maps from other states.
“Ideally we want to have districts that better represent the will of the people,” she says. “So I hope our work will show the need for non-partisan districting reform.”
FROM WFDD Radio
By PAUL GARBER
With the election in the rearview mirror, one thing we know is that Republicans won most of the races in North Carolina for both state and federal seats. It’s not a surprise that redistricting shaped the outcome. But the margins of victory for both Democrat and Republican winners is so wide critics from both sides are making new attacks on gerrymandering.
In the state House, of those races that had more than one candidate, the average margin of victory was 25 percent. It was slightly better in the state Senate, where the average margin of victory was about 23 percent.
That’s up only about one percent from 2010’s result – the last midterm with districts drawn under control of Democrats. But the number of races without a challenger rose from 12 to 20 during that span.
In all, of 170 legislative seats, only 32 had campaigns decided by below-landslide margins.
Those wide margins have even some Republicans wondering if the lines are fair.
The conservative-leaning John Locke Foundation has spoken out against skewed maps for more than 20 years now. Mitch Kokai with the Locke Foundation says they started when Democrats were still drawing the lines and they’re continuing that fight even when the power has shifted.
“The way the process works now the elected officials get to choose their voters, which is completely the opposite of what we should have,” he says. “We should have voters choosing their elected officials.”
Kokai says he’d like to see the maps drawn by professional staff and not by the elected officials who stand to benefit from how those lines are drawn. He says an abundance of uncontested and one-sided districts hurts the democratic process, forcing parties to decide on just a few races close enough that they’re worth fighting for.
“I’ve never liked gerrymandered districts but the fact of the matter is when the other side was in control for the last thirty years they seemed to have no problem,” says Gov. Pat McCrory.
Pat McCrory is elected by a statewide vote, so districts don’t matter in his race. But, still, he acknowledged during an appearance in Kernersville last week that gerrymandering is a problem.
“I’d love to have a perfect pure system that you don’t have gerrymandered districts, but I haven’t found a way to implement that,” he says.
The dilemma, he says, is that if you turn the process over to a panel, those members are still chosen by politicians, and they’ll make maps that benefit them.
But ignoring the problem comes with some risk, according to Jane Pinksy with the the group End Gerrymandering Now.
“We need to recognize that North Carolina is a state that’s growing and changing and that neither party is going to have any certainty of always being the party in power,” she says.
Consider a race that didn’t involve gerrymandering. The state’s most closely watched race was for U.S. Senate. Thom Tillis’ margin of victory over Democrat Kay Hagan was less than 2 percent.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on the effects of redistricting on the 2014 Election. Part two is an interview with State Sen. Bob Rucho, an architect of the current districts.
ROCKY MOUNT TELEGRAM
Thursday, November 20, 2014
A little more than wo weeks after the midterm elections, it pays to revisit the results to see how well legislative races represented the diversity of North Carolina.
Numbers compiled by the N.C. Center for Voter Education make a shaky case for effective representation.
Legislative districts historically have been drawn in ways that favor the party in charge of the N.C. General Assembly. In 2014, that’s the Republican Party, but in the decades prior to 2010, Democrats held that power just as fiercely, if not more so.
To illustrate the impact of redistricting along partisan lines, consider how little real competition there was for legislative seats this year.
Sixty N.C. House seats – one-half of the 120 seats in the House – had no opposition on Election Day. There was only one candidate on the ballot in those districts.
Of the other 60 districts that presented a choice to voters, 37 of the races were decided by 15 percentage points or more. That kind of landslide doesn’t say much for the level of competition offered by the opposing party.
Of the 50 districts represented in the N.C. Senate, 20 had only one candidate on the ballot. Another 20 candidates won by 15 percentage points or more.
As we mentioned before, Democrats were just as guilty of stacking the maps in their favor as Republicans have been, but neither redistricting plan offers much hope for a spirited political process in Raleigh. So long as partisan lawmakers control the redistricting process, the N.C. General Assembly is likely to stay in the hands of one dominant party or the other.
North Carolina needs a better system to make sure more of its voices are better represented. The 2014 election results simply underscore that point once again.