No Choice, no voice at the ballot box
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.