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Posted by on May 27, 2014


May 22, 2014


Read about the initiative to end gerrymandering at

As state lawmakers return to Raleigh to balance the budget and tackle a variety of other important issues, we commend our legislators for approaching their responsibilities with the best of intentions.

Everyone wants the same thing: a North Carolina that’s on course for a bright and prosperous future. How we get there is where sharp differences can emerge

Different ideas, different policies, different agendas are not such a bad thing. That’s to be expected in our state’s robust two-party system. When those differences can be resolved through thoughtful debate and a willingness to find common ground, our democracy works the way the Founding Fathers wanted it to.

Yet these days in both Raleigh and Washington, it is becoming increasingly difficult for both sides to work with each other, much less find common ground.

A big reason has to do with gerrymandering. When legislative and congressional districts are drawn to protect a political party and eliminate competition, lawmakers are less likely to work together and reach consensus. Compromise becomes a bad word. Civil discussions go out the window. The result is legislative gridlock in a toxic polarizing environment.

But we believe it doesn’t have to be that way.

The public yearns for legislative bodies to work with each other in a spirit of civility and respect. We believe most of our hard-working elected officials would in fact prefer such an environment as well.

So how do we get there? Ending gerrymandering is an important first step.

North Carolina needs to find a new way to draw our legislative and congressional districts that takes petty partisan politics out of the process.

Of course, both sides have done it over the years – to the victor goes the spoils. And if your side has the power of the pen, why not draw districts to benefit your party?

The reality is that most legislative and congressional races in North Carolina are overwhelmingly noncompetitive thanks to gerrymandering. Lawmakers arrive in Raleigh and Washington with little incentive to work with their counterparts on the other side. Without competition, the public has no reason to pay attention to political campaigns, the media have no reason to cover the issues and candidates have no reason to campaign or to fear being held accountable.

And that’s not healthy for democracy.

As former elected officials from different political parties, we recognize that ending gerrymandering is a much-needed reform to improve our democracy. That’s why we are leading a new coalition called North Carolinians to End Gerrymandering Now. We want to encourage the General Assembly to pass a redistricting reform bill next year that can be put on the ballot for public approval in 2016.

We applaud Wake County Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, the Republican House speaker pro tem, and Cumberland County’s Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat, for their co-sponsorship of redistricting reform. House Bill 606 had 61 overall co-sponsors last year, so clearly there is bipartisan buy-in to end gerrymandering from leaders in each party. We the people just need to encourage the legislature as a whole to act next year.

For both political parties, ending gerrymandering is an insurance policy. Clearly in North Carolina, no political party will hold power forever. And when the next power-shift comes, the party out of power should not be marginalized to the sidelines without a voice. A nonpartisan redistricting process will provide fair, compact and more competitive districts.

Yes, some of us may be coming late to the party on ending gerrymandering. But gerrymandering was wrong in the past, and it’s wrong now.

We believe a 21st century process – free of politics – would produce districts that elect folks more willing to work with one another and would boost both civility and productivity in Raleigh and Washington.

And that’s what our democracy needs.

Richard Vinroot served as Charlotte mayor from 1991 to 1995. Charles Meeker served as Raleigh mayor from 2001 to 2011.


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Posted by on May 19, 2014


From the Raleigh News and Observer
May 17, 2014

As lawmakers returned to Raleigh last week, so did the air of political conflict. Protesters beat pots and pans outside the Legislative Building, teachers demonstrated for more pay and Republican lawmakers quickly drew up new rules to control the Moral Monday protests that will resume this week.

Yet for all the passion that arises over ideology and issues in Raleigh, the electoral landscape is serene. Nearly half the 170 members of the General Assembly will stand for re-election this fall without a challenger. Few, if any of the state’s 13 congressional districts will be truly contested.

We live now in a state of suspended democracy. How voters feel overall has little to do with who gets elected – or even challenged. Some of this is the fault of citizens who don’t vote – a choice Republicans are encouraging by making the process more inconvenient. But mostly it is because of the cynical inversion of gerrymandering that enables politicians to pick their voters.

Fortunately, former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot are leading an effort to revive the democratic process. They’ve formed a group called North Carolinians to End Gerrymandering Now and are campaigning for fundamental changes in the way voting districts are drawn.

“Gerrymandering means you don’t have meaningful elections,” Meeker said.

The push for nonpartisan redistricting has picked up the support of 40 mayors. Though some Republican leaders of the General Assembly are cool to the idea, one leading House Republican, Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam of Apex, has not wavered in his longtime support for the reform he first proposed in 1989.

At a voters forum on nonpartisan redistricting, he said, “It gives you a bigger choice and it doesn’t insulate somebody with a lot seniority from a challenge. Our current system lets people with a lot of seniority get maps drawn for their benefit.”

Meeker, a Democrat, and Vinroot, a Republican, are urging state lawmakers to put a state constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot calling for a nonpartisan redistricting system. Meeker says the time to weigh the change is during the 2015 long session because lawmakers will be less threatened since the 2020 election will be five years away and the winning party uncertain. If approved, the new system would take effect when voting maps are redrawn after the 2020 census.

With Republicans in full control of state government, a campaign that asks them to put their power at risk in the name of fairness seems both idealistic and doomed. But somehow it must succeed, and it can if enough people shake off their sense of futility and demand change. A Public Policy Polling survey this month found that 45 percent support nonpartisan redistricting with only 18 percent opposed; the rest had no opinion.

The noncompetitive effects of gerrymandered districts afflict the entire nation. Officer-holders who have no fear of losing an election have no incentive to moderate their views, compromise on laws or listen to those they disagree with. But the problem is particularly acute in North Carolina.

Of course, Democrats drew districts in their favor during their many decades in power. But it has never been done with the audacity or efficiency of the Republicans in 2011. After more than a century out of power, the GOP took full advanrage of its chance to draw the lines. Their handiwork flipped the state’s congressional delegation from 7-6 in favor of the Democrats to 9-4 in favor of Republicans. It also turned the once lonely and neglected Republican presence in the General Assembly into lopsided majorities in the House and Senate. Last week, an analysis by the Washington Post’s Wonkblog found North Carolina to be one of the nation’s most gerrymandered states.

The GOP redistricting maps face a legal challenge, but Republicans were as careful about staying within the letter of the law as they were in threading lines through precincts. Changing the map-making process will depend on their willingness to let others draw democracy.

Read more here:

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Posted by on May 15, 2014

A Dubious Honor for North Carolina

America’s most gerrymandered congressional districts

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Crimes against geography.
This election year we can expect to hear a lot about Congressional district gerrymandering, which is when political parties redraw district boundaries to give themselves an electoral advantage.

Gerrymandering is at least partly to blame for the lopsided Republican representation in the House. According to an analysis I did last year, the Democrats are under-represented by about 18 seats in the House, relative to their vote share in the 2012 election. The way Republicans pulled that off was to draw some really, really funky-looking Congressional districts.

Contrary to one popular misconception about the practice, the point of gerrymandering isn’t to draw yourself a collection of overwhelmingly safe seats. Rather, it’s to give your opponents a small number of safe seats, while drawing yourself a larger number of seats that are not quite as safe, but that you can expect to win comfortably. Considering this dynamic, John Sides of The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog has argued convincingly that gerrymandering is not what’s behind the rising polarization in Congress.

The compactness of a district — a measure of how irregular its shape is, as determined by the ratio of the area of the district to the area of a circle with the same perimeter — can serve as a useful proxy for how gerrymandered the district is. Districts that follow a generally regular shape tend to be compact, while those that have a lot of squiggles and offshoots and tentacle-looking protuberances tend to score poorly on this measure.

Using district boundary files from the Census, I calculated compactness scores for each of the districts of the 113th Congress and mapped them so you can see where the least compact — and likely most-gerrymandered –districts are. Click through for an interactive map, along with detailed methodological notes for the brave.

Click through for interactive map »

There’s a lot to say about these districts, about who drew them, the factors that went into their creation and the electoral consequences. Here’s a straightforward run-down of where the most- and least-gerrymandered districts are.
1. Democrats won in nine of the 10 most-gerrymandered districts. But eight out of 10 of those districts were drawn by Republicans.

This speaks to the notion that the point of gerrymandering isn’t to draw yourself a safe seat but to put your opponents in safe seats by cramming all of their supporters into a small number of districts. This lets you spread your own supporters over a larger number of districts. And the way to do this is to draw outlandishly-shaped districts that bring far-flung geographic areas together. North Carolina’s 12th district, which holds the title of the nation’s most-gerrymandered, is a textbook example of this: It snakes from north of Greensboro, to Winston-Salem, and then all the way down to Charlotte, spanning most of the state in the process.

2. Three of the 10 most-gerrymandered districts are in North Carolina.

North Carolina Republicans really outdid themselves in 2012. In addition to the 12th district, there’s the 4th, which covers Raleigh and Burlington and snakes a narrow tentacle all the way south to pick up parts of Fayetteville. And then there’s the 1st District, which covers a sprawling arbitrarily shaped region in the northeastern part of the state. All three of these seats were won by Democrats in 2012.

Overall, the North Carolina GOP’s efforts paid off handsomely. Based on their statewide vote share you’d expect North Carolina Democrats to hold about seven seats. But they won only four. This is because an outsized share of the state’s Democratic voters were shunted off into the three highly-gerrymandered districts above.

3. Indiana and Nevada stand out as states with the least amount of gerrymandering.

In contrast to North Carolina’s Republicans, Indiana’s did a remarkably good job of drawing sensible district boundaries. The same holds true for Nevada’s Democrats, although with only four districts, the district boundaries in Nevada are dictated to a large degree by the state’s borders.

4. Maryland and North Carolina are essentially tied for the honor of most-gerrymandered state.

With average gerrymander scores of about 88 out of a possible 100, Maryland and North Carolina are home to some of the ugliest districts in the nation among states with at least three Congressional districts. In fact, North Carolina is home to three out of the top 10 most-gerrymandered districts in the country. Maryland is proof that gerrymandering isn’t just a Republican pastime, as the state’s Democrats redrew those boundaries in 2012. The standout in that state is the 3rd Congressional district, which is the nation’s second-most gerrymandered and home to Democratic congressman John Sarbanes.

5. Republicans drew Congressional boundaries in six of the 10 most-gerrymandered states.

In addition to North Carolina, Republicans drew district boundaries in Louisiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Alabama. Democrats drew districts in West Virginia and Illinois, in addition to Maryland. Boundaries in Kentucky were drawn up by that state’s mixed legislature.
Again, the payoff for Republicans is in the makeup of the state’s delegations: In those six states, Republicans picked up about 11 more seats than you’d expect from simply looking at the parties’ vote shares.

6. Gerrymandering is easier to get away with in more densely-populated areas.

You’ll notice that many of the highly irregular districts are clustered around cities and metro areas. When there are more people in a given area, partisans have more leeway in how to draw their districts.

7. This is what the 10 most-gerrymandered districts look like.

For a sense of just how ridiculous gerrymandered districts look, nothing beats a visual. I’ve listed the 10 most gerrymandered districts below.


Gerrymander index score: 97.09

Gerrymander index score: 96.79

Gerrymander index score: 96.15

Gerrymander index score: 96.05

Gerrymander index score: 96.01

Gerrymander index score: 95.60

Gerrymander index score: 95.16

Gerrymander index score: 94.96

Gerrymander index score: 94.63

Gerrymander index score: 94.41



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