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Posted by on Mar 4, 2015

Nonpartisan redistricting is still right thing to do

By Jon Hardister
Being a good legislator requires honesty, hard work and humility. It also involves being consistent in the quest to establish a better form of government. That is why I am a consistent advocate for redistricting reform in North Carolina.

Every 10 years, after the decennial census, the state legislature is tasked with the responsibility of redrawing N.C. House, N.C. Senate and congressional districts. Under the present system, the political party in power has the ability to draw these districts to its political advantage. This process is commonly referred to as “gerrymandering.”
Prior to 2010, when Democrats held the majority in the state legislature, I advocated for redistricting reform. I wrote a paper about it when I was in college, and I wrote letters to members of the state legislature pleading with them to reform our redistricting process. Redistricting reform was also part of my campaign platform when I first ran for the N.C. House in 2010.
Democrats had plenty of chances to enact redistricting reform when they were in the majority in North Carolina. Redistricting reform bills were filed in the state legislature year after year when Democrats were in power, but none of these bills passed. It was the right thing to do, but it never happened.
Now we have a Republican majority in the state legislature, and redistricting reform is still the right thing to do. It would be inconsistent for me to suddenly abandon my position on this issue now that my political party is in power. This was the right thing to do when Democrats were in power, and it is still the right thing to do today.
HB 92 — Nonpartisan Redistricting Process — was filed in the N.C. House on Feb. 16 of this year. I am honored to be a primary sponsor of this bill along with Rep. Skip Stam (R-Wake), Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) and Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake). There are 63 co-sponsors of the bill, which indicates there is strong bipartisan support for this effort.
This bill would require the General Assembly’s legislative services office to draw the legislative districts. There would be oversight provided by a bipartisan commission that consists of private citizens. When the districts are completed, the legislature would be required to approve them. If the legislature were to reject the plan three times, then the legislature would be allowed to draw the districts. It is necessary to allow the legislature to grant final approval of the plan in order to meet constitutional requirements.
It is true that we cannot completely eliminate the influence of politics when it comes to redistricting reform. That is because the process would still involve people, and people have personal opinions. But we can reduce the influence of politics in the redistricting process, and that is exactly what this bill would do.
Republicans need not worry about giving up the power of drawing legislative districts. If we continue to pass sound legislation and provide effective leadership, then we will continue to be elected. I would also remind my fellow Republicans that we may not be in the legislative majority during future redistricting efforts. If this were the case, then we would benefit (and our citizens would benefit) from having a nonpartisan redistricting process in place.
It is important that we work to make government better for all of our citizens. This should be a consistent goal of anyone who has the privilege of serving in public office. As a state legislator, I know that this is the right thing to do on behalf of the citizens of North Carolina.
Jon Hardister is a second-term Republican representative from House District 59. He lives in Greensboro.

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Posted by on Mar 4, 2015

Arizona voters want an independent commission to handle redistricting. Irate state legislators sued.

From the Wall Street Journal

By

Bill Mundell And Charles Munger Jr.

 

 

More than 200 years ago, at the Massachusetts convention to debate ratifying the U.S. Constitution, state representative Theophilus Parsons emphasized the need for a remedy if “a state legislature” were to “make an unequal and partial division of the state into districts for the election of representatives.” But although the Framers responded by providing for federal regulation of elections in the new Constitution, the problem of gerrymandering persists.

 

Courts and legislatures struggled to address gerrymandering for decades, but it was not until 2011 that one state, Arizona, successfully used a ballot initiative to create an independent commission to draw district lines for Congress. Now the Arizona state legislature is suing to invalidate the lines drawn that year, arguing that the U.S. Constitution requires that the state legislature draw those lines. On March 2, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in this lawsuit.

 

We in California have a strong interest in this court case. That’s because California used the ballot to go even further than Arizona and barred the legislature from directly selecting the members of the commission. We, together with three former governors of California and the Chamber of Commerce, filed an amicus brief that among other things demonstrates that the dangers inherent in this lawsuit extend well beyond Arizona and California.

 

A broad decision from the high court eliminating any regulation of the “manner” of federal elections not made by state legislators could not only invalidate fair redistricting in other states that use independent commissions but also threaten important existing reforms that were first accomplished by ballot measure, such as permanent voter registration and all-mail balloting.

 

The principal issue before the court is: What does the Elections Clause of the Constitution mean? It says, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations . . .”

 

The Arizona legislature argues that “Legislature” may only mean the specific group of elected members sitting in the state capitol. But the dictionary known to the Framers, by Dr. Samuel Johnson, defined legislature as “the power that makes laws.” So did Noah Webster, when he wrote his 1806 dictionary.

 

For the past century, some states have used the initiative and referendum as “the power that makes laws” on a broad range of subjects. In spite of the fact that state legislatures have historically misused their power to redistrict, the Arizona legislature insists that the citizens of Arizona should not be allowed to use the initiative to create a commission to draw new lines.

 

We will never be certain of how the Framers would have defined “Legislature,” because the initiative was unknown in 1787. But we do know their views on federalism and fair elections.

 

The authors of the Federalist Papers contemplated that Congress would serve as a backstop in case the state legislatures abused their power to regulate elections to cripple the nascent federal legislature. Hence that second line in the Elections Clause, giving Congress the power to pass its own laws that would override state rules. Had Congress been displeased with the use of new alternative political structures to carry out redistricting, it could have mandated that redistricting be done solely by the legislators.

 

But Congress never did so. In fact, a later Congress acted to further clarify the vision of the Framers by considering the changed landscape and explicitly giving the states freedom to act in accordance with their own laws. In 1911 Congress changed the relevant law, which had referred to redistricting by “the legislature of such State” to provide that the redistricting should be done by a state “in the manner provided by the laws thereof.”

 

This was done after a floor discussion of the then-new phenomenon of the statewide initiative, first adopted in 1898 in South Dakota, and some mention of nonpartisan commissions. It would now be up to the states to choose the means to accomplish their duties.

 

And yet today we have the remarkable irony of state legislators arguing that the clause intended to give Congress the power to prevent gerrymandering instead forbids a state from preventing it.

 

The commissions recently used in California and Arizona may have their flaws. But those could be fixed before meeting again in six years time. Already, they have proven to be far more open, transparent and responsive to diverse groups than the alternative—legislators meeting in a backroom and producing new maps. And like it or not, commissions produced many more competitive seats in 2012 and 2014 than had been seen in the past.

There should never again be a situation like that in California in the decade of the 2000s where, in a state with 53 House seats, there was a change of party exactly once in 265 House races. “We the people” deserve better.

 

Mr. Mundell is the former chairman of Californians for Fair Redistricting and was the executive producer of the 2010 feature documentary “Gerrymandering.” Mr. Munger is the proponent of California Proposition 20, which put the drawing of California’s 53 congressional districts into the hands of an independent commission.

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Posted by on Feb 9, 2015

Legislature divided on redistricting

Legislature divided on redistricting
Last updated: February 06. 2015 4:11PM – 477 Views
By William R. Toler – wtoler@civitasmedia.com

Richmond County Daily Journal

ROCKINGHAM — Some state lawmakers are joining together in a bipartisan effort to limit legislative control over redistricting.
A House bill introduced Wednesday calls for an amendment to the state Constitution that would establish an independent redistricting commission to determine districts starting in 2030.
The commission would propose three plans to the General Assembly for the election of state House and Senate members and U.S. representatives. If legislators fail to act within 120 days, the commission would adopt one of the three plans.
The bill sets up a nine-person commission with two members chosen by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, three by the governor and the remaining four by the leadership in both houses.
Membership on the commission would be limited to those who had not held or ran for a public office four years prior to being appointed and prohibited from holding public office for four years after leaving.
Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, said he is “solidly in favor of that, 100 percent” and intends to sign on as a co-sponsor.
Goodman said he has supported similar attempts in the past.
“It absolutely would create better government if we could get that done,” he said.
“It’s ridiculous when you really think about it for my district to be parts of five counties,” he added. “It would make more sense to keep counties whole.”
Aside from Richmond, Goodman’s district includes portions of Hoke, Scotland, Montgomery and Robeson counties.
“I’m glad to represent these folks,” he said. However, Goodman said with being spread out so far, “It’s hard to be where you need to be…it’s really unfair to those voters.”
Speaker Pro-tempore Rep. Paul Stam, a Wake County Republican, said now would be the best time to consider the change ahead of the 2020 census.
“This is not about the current maps,” Stam said at a news conference Tuesday. “The idea is that in constructing districts, the people with the most at stake are probably (the) ones who shouldn’t be doing the details.”
While Democrats and the Republicans in the House seem to agree, the Senate remains the main hurdle.
A redistricting overhaul bill passed the House in 2011, but stalled in the Senate.
Goodman said although he supports the plan, he’s not optimistic about its passing.
Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, told the Associated Press that any House bill would not move forward in his chamber.
Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenberg, who helped draw the last boundaries, said the commission is “unnecessary.”
“It’s rare that people abdicate power,” Goodman said. “If they don’t want it to happen, it won’t happen.”
Freshman Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, seems more willing to entertain the notion than the Senate leadership, but his overall sentiment is the same.
“I will gladly review whatever proposal the House sends over, but I have serious concerns about the independence and objectivity of so-called ‘independent’ redistricting efforts,” he said in a statement to the Daily Journal on Thursday.
“I think it should be left as-is because the North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld that the redistricting maps passed by the General Assembly in 2011 do meet state and federal standards,” he continued. “Furthermore, the 25th Senate District is competitive due to the fact that both political parties have won elections.”
In his syndicated newspaper column this week, John Locke Foundation chairman John Hood wrote how “the redistricting drama here in North Carolina is itself full of contrasts and inversions.”
“During the 1990s and 2000s, when Democrats were in control of the General Assembly, they rejected repeated calls for changing the way North Carolina drew its congressional and legislative districts by arguing that they were just following the rules of a game they did not invent,” wrote Hood.
“After the 2010 elections gave control of the General Assembly to the Republicans, they proceeded to draw the congressional and legislative maps,” he continued. “Although compliant with state and federal law, the resulting districts clearly gave GOP candidates an edge in achieving majorities of North Carolina’s legislative and congressional seats.”
Even Gov. Pat McCrory has expressed concerns over gerrymandering.
“I think the gerrymandered districts where we have no competition in the general election makes all of our jobs difficult, especially the executive branch,” McCrory said in a November interview with WFAE radio in Charlotte. “I have to represent the whole state. Legislators, both Republican and Democrat, tend to now represent a more monolithic population.”
To show that redistricting reform is a nonpartisan issue, two former mayors from opposite parties collaborated on a December op-ed in The Charlotte Observer.
Richard Vinroot, a Republican and former mayor of Charlotte, joined with Democrat and former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker to lobby the General Assembly for reforming legislation in 2015.
“It is understandable that when each party gains control, they draw the maps to protect themselves and their side,” the pair wrote. “But that process is not good for the people of North Carolina and the future of our great state.
“As former mayors of North Carolina’s two largest cities, we know how important it is to have a government that fairly represents the people, and in which voters have confidence. And we believe that the way we have drawn maps in North Carolina for the past five decades or longer has undermined citizens’ confidence in our government, created highly partisan legislative districts and caused gridlock.”
The two former mayors said they support a plan that is based on the way maps have been drawn in Iowa for the past 35 years.
“They cannot be drawn based on the political makeup of districts, past voter turnout or other partisan factors,” they wrote. “Instead, the maps are drawn by professionals, reviewed by citizens and then approved or disapproved by the legislature in a timely fashion.”
Hood wrote that he’s been a longtime supporter of redistricting reform, but isn’t “wedded” to any particular model.
“I’m sure redistricting reformers would welcome any of a wide range of alternatives as long as it is based on the principle that neutral rules should be our means and competitive elections our end,” he wrote.
Mirroring Goodman’s sentiments, he concluded, “I know that convincing lawmakers to give up power over the electoral maps won’t be easy. Still, it’s the right thing to do.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675.

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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015

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.

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