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Posted by on Mar 22, 2016

NC A&T students speak out on campus gerrymandering

Students at NC A&T State University, the nation’s largest historically black college or university, recently spoke out against new congressional voting maps that leave their campus split into two districts.

Last month, a federal court ruled that Republican lawmakers had racially gerrymandered two of the state’s 13 congressional districts and ordered lawmakers to redraw those district lines. Legislative leaders responded with some dramatic changes to the state’s congressional maps and openly declared that their chief aim was to craft districts that would favor their own party.

“I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is not against the law,” Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) told the redistricting committee that he co-chairs.

While Republican legislators claim that race played no part in this latest round of redistricting, the new maps divide NC A&T’s campus of over 10,000 students – a majority of whom are African-American – into the 6th or 13th districts. According to the students that spoke out last week, the split could dilute the voting power of the campus community and cause Election Day confusion at the polls.

“With this university being split into two congressional districts, it undermines and diminishes its political influence and its lobbying power,” said Aleecia Sutton, a student at NC A&T State University and a Democracy Fellow with Common Cause North Carolina.

Nhawndie Smith said dividing the campus could discourage her fellow A&T students from casting a ballot. “How can I vote knowing that my vote won’t even have power?” Smith said.

The new congressional maps could face additional judicial scrutiny. But regardless of the outcome in the court case, Dominique Sanders of Common Cause North Carolina says there is one sure way to protect all voters from gerrymandering: moving to an independent system of redistricting.

“We’ve got to get partisan politics out of the redistricting process,” Sanders said.

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Posted by on Feb 20, 2016

Coalition responds to US Supreme Court’s denial of stay in NC congressional redistricting case

The US Supreme Court on Friday refused to issue a stay in a lower court ruling that directed North Carolina lawmakers to redraw the state’s congressional districts due to racial gerrymandering.

The following is a statement from Jane Pinsky, director of the nonpartisan NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, in response to the Supreme Court allowing the lower court ruling to remain.

“For many years, Democrats drew congressional boundaries in North Carolina that produced chaotic court fights. Now, it’s Republican versions that cannot survive court reviews.

“We are saddened by this process, which puts raw politics over the people. We promise to redouble our efforts to bring about methods for deciding political boundaries that are fair, impartial and can restore confidence in our state’s elections.

“We ask lawmakers of both parties to join us in developing a bipartisan solution.”

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Posted by on Feb 8, 2016

In wake of gerrymandering ruling, give reform a chance

A federal court last week invalidated two congressional districts in North Carolina due to racial gerrymandering. The decision is the latest example spotlighting the absurdity of our state’s redistricting process.

It’s a broken system where elections are held within districts drawn by partisan politicians who game the lines for their own party. And yes, both sides are guilty. Democrats indulged in gerrymandering when they were in charge. Republicans did the same after taking power in 2010. And the majority party will get to do it again if and when this latest court ruling actually forces lawmakers to redraw the congressional districts.

The newest court decision doesn’t impact the redistricting process. That remains unchanged and fundamentally flawed. As the sound bite goes, it’s a situation where politicians choose their voters, rather than the other way around.

So as redistricting is for the moment front and center, those of us pushing for a common-sense change make this respectful request to our legislators: give reform a chance.

Sure, we know human nature dictates most of us act within our own self-interest. And the party in power doesn’t want to do anything that they believe jeopardizes that power.

That’s understandable, and it’s why prior to 2010, only one elected Democrat dared put their name to a redistricting reform bill when their party controlled the state legislature. And it’s why during that same period, every Republican elected official championed reform when they were in the minority and felt gerrymandering’s sting.

Today the political landscape has flipped, and Democrats are all in for redistricting reform. Republicans, not so much.

But to their credit, not every Republican has abandoned the cause of reform. There are significant numbers within the GOP who still believe taking politics out of the map-drawing process is the right thing to do. Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady of Henderson County said it best last year, when he and a bipartisan majority of NC House members introduced a bill to establish independent redistricting.

“What I would say to my fellow Republicans is this was right when we were not in the majority, and it’s still right,” McGrady said.

The effects of partisan gerrymandering will be seen clearly on the ballots of millions of North Carolina voters this fall when they will have just one choice in who represents them in the legislature – which is really no choice at all.

In fact, over 30 percent of our state legislative races were effectively determined before a single ballot was cast this year, because just one candidate even bothered to run in these districts. And the reality in November is that 90 percent of state legislative races will be decided by 10 percentage points or more, for all practical purposes making them noncompetitive elections.

As for our 13 congressional districts, in 2014 the most competitive race was decided by a whopping 15 points, and other elections were decided by margins exceeding 50 points. Nothing suggests anything different for 2016.

So what can impartial redistricting reform accomplish?

It can at least remove the practice of lawmakers in power gaming the entire process for themselves and their party. Districts could then be created that are more compact without dividing precincts and communities of interest and in some instances, yes, result in more competitive elections than we currently have.

But perhaps the greatest benefit may simply be that we would have a process that’s fair and in the interest of the public and not politicians – a process that the people can trust.

So to the current legislative leadership, we ask that you take the long view of redistricting. Each of you has once upon a time sponsored redistricting reform. You knew what it felt like to be gerrymandered out of power.

Redistricting reform guarantees that no party is gerrymandered into irrelevance again. Reform would be a win for both political parties and the voters.

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Posted by on Nov 11, 2015

Analysis shows uncertainty for NC legislative elections, reinforces need for independent redistricting

Control of the NC General Assembly could be uncertain in the decade ahead as the state sees dramatic demographic shifts, according to a new analysis from political scientists at NC State University.

According to Dr. Andrew Taylor and Dr. Mark Nance, many legislative districts currently leaning Republican will see a shift toward Democratic voters – and vice versa – in the coming years. In turn, it will be unclear which party might control the legislature for the next rounds of redistricting in 2021 and 2031.

The analysis by Taylor and Nance was presented as part of the Abe Holtzman Public Policy Forum at NC State University on Wednesday night.

Under North Carolina’s longstanding system, whichever party controls the General Assembly is also in charge of the decennial redistricting process in which the state’s congressional and legislative maps are redrawn. Redistricting has been highly partisan under both Democratic and Republican majorities, leading to districts that stifle competition and diminish the ability of voters to choose their representatives.

However, Nance and Taylor say that rapidly changing demographics will make political gerrymandering far more difficult to pass judicial scrutiny and less sure to withstand even small waves in future elections. In turn, gerrymandering will become a greater risk for whichever party is in charge of the legislature.

“Both parties in the past have been reluctant to establish an independent redistricting process, perhaps because they believed they would be in the majority when redistricting rolled back around,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “However, this new analysis gives Republicans and Democrats a powerful reason to pass redistricting reform now, instead of gambling on which party might be in charge in the coming years.”

Phillips said that partisan gerrymandering has alarmed many civic leaders across the state, with more than 240 elected officials from around North Carolina signing a petition in support of redistricting reform. And almost a dozen municipalities have passed resolutions asking the legislature to establish an independent redistricting process.

“We’re seeing a growing number of civic and business leaders from across the political spectrum express real concern about the polarizing and destabilizing effects of gerrymandering,” Phillips said. “Independent redistricting would provide greater political stability for North Carolina, which could make our state more attractive to the business community while strengthening voter confidence in the integrity of our elections.”

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