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Posted by on May 28, 2014

Editorial- Redistricting should benefit the voters, not the politicians


Published: Friday, May 23, 2014 at 10:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 23, 2014 at 10:05 p.m.
Our political system is supposed to represent the voters. Too often, political parties and special interests run the show. Gerrymandering, that old standard, is made even more efficient by technology that allows cherry-picking or isolation of certain voting blocs, depending on where the lines are drawn.

What often results is a convoluted mess that confuses voters and serves to entrench one party or the other.

For a number of years now, a coalition has been pushing to leave the map drafting to an independent, bipartisan commission that contains no politicians. The key players would be the professional legislative staff, who with the commission would be charged with drawing district lines that make sense, rather than the Rorschach-like inkblots that make up many of North Carolina’s congressional districts.

That effort got a strong bipartisan face earlier this month, when former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, a Republican, and former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, a Democrat, joined forces to promote a process whose objective is fair representation for voters – not favored status for political parties. They support a constitutional amendment to assign the job of redistricting to an independent, bipartisan commission; the General Assembly would have the final vote in redistricting. Twenty-one states have a similar system.

Voters of all political parties have a stake in developing a fairer process, because both Democrats and Republicans have manipulated census statistics into illogically shaped districts intended to give their party a strong advantage – using race and wealth as well as party registration as guides.

They do so by drawing oddly shaped lines to corral strong voting blocs of their opponents into “safe” districts (leaving their own party’s more reliable votes in the remaining districts), or by tucking blocs of the opposing party’s likely voters into unfavorable districts.

Technology has made the cherry-picking even more efficient.

Three of the nation’s 10 most gerrymandered districts are in this state – North Carolina’s 1st, 4th and 12th districts, according to The Washington Post. The 12th District, which was also badly gerrymandered by Democrats previously, is No. 1. (See graphic on opposite page.)

The Post’s data gurus measured what they call “compactness, which means districts that generally don’t contain lots of little fingers shooting out and grabbing key demographics. By that measure, North Carolina is the nation’s second most gerrymandered state. It was only more gerrymandered, according to The Post, during the 103rd Congress – the first two years of Bill Clinton’s first term as president. Democrats were in charge of the state legislature.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The state’s constitution dictates that county lines be respected where possible – that would be a good start toward more sensible district boundaries. In 2009, in a case challenging Democratic-drawn legislative lines in Pender County, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

We have six years until the next census, and another year after that before the next redistricting. The Honorables already have the power – if they choose to use it – to develop a system that puts the voters first.