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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

FOR THE SAKE OF DEMOCRACY, DUMP GERRYMANDERING

Doug Clark
Posted on Oct 22, 2014by Doug Clark

 
State Reps. Jon Hardister and Pricey Harrison joined election reform advocate Jane Pinsky to make a compelling presentation on redistricting to the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad yesterday.

Hardister, a Republican, and Harrison, a Democrat, are strong supporters of nonpartisan redistricting.
Pinsky heads the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. An obstacle to progress is gerrymandering, which insulates Republicans and Democrats from effective challenges in their districts.
Voting in this year’s elections hasn’t begun yet, but 79 state legislative seats already have been decided, Pinsky said. And most others are all but predetermined. “The parties have manipulated lines to keep themselves in power,” Pinsky said.

Hardister said gerrymandering hasn’t made sense to him since he studied the practice as a political science major at Greensboro College.

Even though his party is in power now, and drew the current lines to its advantage, he supports a plan to take the politics out.
“It’s about good government. It’s about giving more power to the people,” he said.
With more competitive districts, “maybe it would bring the parties together a little.”
Harrison elaborated on that point. Because districts are packed with Democratic voters or Republican voters, legislators really only have to be concerned about challenges in party primaries — Democrats from the left and Republicans from the right. It polarizes how they behave in office. That’s true in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the state legislature.
“People from districts where they’re pretty sure they’re going to be re-elected don’t have to compromise,” Pinsky said.
The state House passed a nonpartisan redistricting bill in 2011 but it never moved out of a Senate committee. In 2013, the same bill had 61 co-sponsors — a majority — but never was brought to the floor for a vote. There was no point because Senate leaders signaled they weren’t interested.
That’s no reason not to keep trying. Pinsky’s group is pushing for a new bill to be introduced in the House next year. It lets nonpartisan legislative staff draw congressional and legislative districts. Districts would have to be compact and contiguous and not drawn to favor an incumbent or political party. Legislators would get an up-or-down vote on the plans submitted to them.
To create confidence that neither party could reverse this process, the bill would put the measure on a statewide referendum in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment.
Chances are it would pass easily.
Hardister borrowed a description that’s been used many times: voters aren’t choosing their representatives; the representatives are choosing their voters.
It’s past time to restore real democracy to North Carolina.

 
Contact editorial writer Doug Clark at (336) 373-7039 and dgclark@News-Record.com.

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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015

REDISTRICTING LEADER SAYS MAPS NOT GERRYMANDERED; NUMBERS SUGGEST OTHERWISE

FROM WFDD radio

By PAUL GARBER

The State Board of Election reports that 14 races across the state were so close that they’re currently undergoing recounts. For the most part, though, close races were the exception this year.

Most legislative seats were either uncontested or won by landslide margins. Wednesday, WFDD reported that critics on both sides of the political spectrum are making renewed attacks on gerrymandering.

Today, we talked to one of the architects of the electoral maps, who says the maps are both legal and fair. State Sen. Bob Rucho says none of the candidates would have won without swaying unaffiliated voters.

Rucho says that the high number of one-sided elections this year has more to do with candidates having the right message for undecided voters than it did with redistricting.

“I’m saying these maps aren’t gerrymandered,” he says. “It was a matter of what the candidates actually was able to tell the voters and if the voters agreed with them. Why would you call that uncompetitive?”

Democrats had drawn the electoral boundaries for decades, but Republicans took over when they came into power following the 2010 mid-term. Rucho says they were following strict court-ordered guidelines when drawing the map to ensure equal representation. Redistricting data and maps can be found at the General Assembly’s redistricting page.

He says the Democrats would have been forced to draw similar lines had they done the redistricting. Rucho says the lines the Republicans drew weren’t very different from the previous maps. You can see the state senate map that the Democrats drew in 2003 here.

Rucho says the maps aren’t gerrymandered – a term for districts that are drawn to give one side an advantage. But critics disagree. Bloggers for the Washington Post determined North Carolina’s current map to be the one of the most gerrymandered in the country.

So how might the lines look different if they weren’t based on political decisions? Two Duke University researchers decided to do the math to find out.

John Mattingly is a Duke University math professor. Christy Vaughn is a senior math major. They created district maps that followed the law by keeping the maps compact and evenly distributing the population. But they ignored race and party affiliation. They ran more than 100 tests, and the results were consistent.

“The most likely outcome was that seven or eight of the 13 seats were filled by Democrats,” Mattingly said. That’s a different result than the official outcome of the election, in which democrats only won four seats.

There are a few things to keep in mind. Vaughn and Mattingly were looking at U.S. Congressional races, not state legislative races that WFDD analyzed for this series. Also, they focused on the 2012 election, which had a higher voter turnout and a larger proportion of Democrat voters.

Mattingly says the results has important implications for how maps are drawn.

“If we really want our elections to reflect the will of the people, then I think we have to put in safeguards to protect our democracy so redistrictings don’t end up so biased that they essentially fix the elections before they get started,” he says.

Vaughn says the next step is to compare their maps to district maps from other states.

“Ideally we want to have districts that better represent the will of the people,” she says. “So I hope our work will show the need for non-partisan districting reform.”

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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015

LANDSLIDE RACES PUT FOCUS ON REDISTRICTING

FROM WFDD Radio

By PAUL GARBER

With the election in the rearview mirror, one thing we know is that Republicans won most of the races in North Carolina for both state and federal seats. It’s not a surprise that redistricting shaped the outcome. But the margins of victory for both Democrat and Republican winners is so wide critics from both sides are making new attacks on gerrymandering.

In the state House, of those races that had more than one candidate, the average margin of victory was 25 percent. It was slightly better in the state Senate, where the average margin of victory was about 23 percent.

That’s up only about one percent from 2010’s result – the last midterm with districts drawn under control of Democrats. But the number of races without a challenger rose from 12 to 20 during that span.

In all, of 170 legislative seats, only 32 had campaigns decided by below-landslide margins.

Those wide margins have even some Republicans wondering if the lines are fair.

The conservative-leaning John Locke Foundation has spoken out against skewed maps for more than 20 years now. Mitch Kokai with the Locke Foundation says they started when Democrats were still drawing the lines and they’re continuing that fight even when the power has shifted.

“The way the process works now the elected officials get to choose their voters, which is completely the opposite of what we should have,” he says. “We should have voters choosing their elected officials.”

Kokai says he’d like to see the maps drawn by professional staff and not by the elected officials who stand to benefit from how those lines are drawn. He says an abundance of uncontested and one-sided districts hurts the democratic process, forcing parties to decide on just a few races close enough that they’re worth fighting for.

“I’ve never liked gerrymandered districts but the fact of the matter is when the other side was in control for the last thirty years they seemed to have no problem,” says Gov. Pat McCrory.

Pat McCrory is elected by a statewide vote, so districts don’t matter in his race. But, still, he acknowledged during an appearance in Kernersville last week that gerrymandering is a problem.

“I’d love to have a perfect pure system that you don’t have gerrymandered districts, but I haven’t found a way to implement that,” he says.

The dilemma, he says, is that if you turn the process over to a panel, those members are still chosen by politicians, and they’ll make maps that benefit them.

But ignoring the problem comes with some risk, according to Jane Pinksy with the the group End Gerrymandering Now.

“We need to recognize that North Carolina is a state that’s growing and changing and that neither party is going to have any certainty of always being the party in power,” she says.

Consider a race that didn’t involve gerrymandering. The state’s most closely watched race was for U.S. Senate. Thom Tillis’ margin of victory over Democrat Kay Hagan was less than 2 percent.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on the effects of redistricting on the 2014 Election. Part two is an interview with State Sen. Bob Rucho, an architect of the current districts.

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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015

ELECTIONS UNDERSCORE REDISTRICTING FLAWS

ROCKY MOUNT TELEGRAM
Thursday, November 20, 2014

A little more than wo weeks after the midterm elections, it pays to revisit the results to see how well legislative races represented the diversity of North Carolina.

Numbers compiled by the N.C. Center for Voter Education make a shaky case for effective representation.

Legislative districts historically have been drawn in ways that favor the party in charge of the N.C. General Assembly. In 2014, that’s the Republican Party, but in the decades prior to 2010, Democrats held that power just as fiercely, if not more so.

To illustrate the impact of redistricting along partisan lines, consider how little real competition there was for legislative seats this year.

Sixty N.C. House seats – one-half of the 120 seats in the House – had no opposition on Election Day. There was only one candidate on the ballot in those districts.

Of the other 60 districts that presented a choice to voters, 37 of the races were decided by 15 percentage points or more. That kind of landslide doesn’t say much for the level of competition offered by the opposing party.

Of the 50 districts represented in the N.C. Senate, 20 had only one candidate on the ballot. Another 20 candidates won by 15 percentage points or more.

As we mentioned before, Democrats were just as guilty of stacking the maps in their favor as Republicans have been, but neither redistricting plan offers much hope for a spirited political process in Raleigh. So long as partisan lawmakers control the redistricting process, the N.C. General Assembly is likely to stay in the hands of one dominant party or the other.

North Carolina needs a better system to make sure more of its voices are better represented. The 2014 election results simply underscore that point once again.

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