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Retired judges unveil new, unofficial NC congressional map

Posted by on Aug 29, 2016

A nonpartisan panel of retired judges on Monday unveiled a new, but unofficial, congressional map for North Carolina to demonstrate how independent redistricting can work in the state.

The new congressional map is the culmination of a four-month-long redistricting simulation launched as a joint project with Duke University and Common Cause North Carolina. Comprised of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, the panel of eight retired judges was led by former N.C. Supreme Court chief justices Rhoda Billings and Henry Frye.

The nonpartisan panel created the 13 new congressional districts free from partisan politics. The group’s goals were to draw geographically compact districts with equal populations, while also complying with the federal Voting Rights Act.

“Although we have different political backgrounds, we put that aside to draw districts in a fair and impartial way,” said Frye, a Democrat.

Billings, a Republican, said, “The members of the panel took very seriously the mission – to create congressional districts without considering politics. In the process we found that it is not possible to adhere to laws and court decisions applicable to redistricting without crossing county lines.”

While the panel of former judges did not look at any political data when drawing the congressional map, the result is a more competitive set of districts than the existing congressional map created by the North Carolina General Assembly.

An analysis of the judges’ map shows six likely Republican districts, four likely Democratic districts and three toss-up districts. That compares to 10 likely Republican districts, three likely Democratic districts and no toss-up districts under the congressional map drawn by state lawmakers earlier this year. Legislative leaders have stated that their congressional map was crafted primarily with maintaining partisan advantage in mind.

Tom Ross, former UNC system president and the Terry Sanford Distinguished Fellow at the Sanford School of Public Policy, initiated the project and advised the panel of judges during the redistricting simulation.

“The panel did an outstanding job of following the clear criteria of achieving equal population, compactness and compliance with the Voting Rights Act, while leaving out partisan political consideration,” Ross said. “We believe this exercise shows how impartial redistricting can produce voting maps that are free from partisan gerrymandering and accurately reflect the population of North Carolina.”

The legislature is responsible for drawing North Carolina’s federal congressional and state legislative districts. However, the process has frequently led to controversy, with more than 30 court interventions in the state’s redistricting process over the past three decades.

Earlier this year, a federal court ruled that the legislature had unconstitutionally gerrymandered two of the state’s 13 congressional districts along racial lines. That ruling forced the N.C. General Assembly to redraw the districts and delayed the state’s congressional primaries from March to June.

The current system produces consistently safe congressional districts, Ross said, in which elected representatives can ignore voters who disagree with them and respond only to the like-minded people who elect them. The result is polarization, gridlock and “loss of belief in our democracy,” Ross said.

Bob Phillips, executive director of the nonpartisan nonprofit organization Common Cause NC, said there is increasing support for independent redistricting in North Carolina.

“We are seeing growing agreement among voters and political leaders from both sides of the political aisle that we need to take partisanship out of the way voting maps are drawn in North Carolina,” Phillips said. “The work done by these former judges shows how a truly impartial redistricting process could be successfully adopted in North Carolina.”

Phillips noted that both Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper are on record opposing gerrymandering, as are former governors Jim Hunt, a Democrat, and Jim Martin, a Republican. In April a Public Policy Polling survey found nearly 60 percent of North Carolina voters would favor an independent system of redistricting. Just 9 percent opposed such a move.

The Sanford School of Public Policy is one of the nation’s leading schools of public policy. It offers undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees in public policy and international development policy. North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford, then president of Duke, established the school in 1972.

Common Cause North Carolina is a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging citizen participation in democracy, and is part of the national Common Cause grassroots network of 400,000 members in 35 states.

Common Cause files landmark lawsuit against partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina

Posted by on Aug 5, 2016

Common Cause launched a potentially landmark lawsuit in federal court today directly challenging the foundation of partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina.

Filed in the Middle District Court in Greensboro, the challenge in Common Cause v. Rucho could be a watershed moment in the fight against gerrymandering. While judges have weighed in on racial gerrymandering and set constraints for such factors as equal population in drawing voting maps, the courts have largely avoided determining if partisan gerrymandering is legal.

The lawsuit filed by Common Cause seeks to resolve that lingering question, arguing that manipulation of voting maps for partisan gain is unconstitutional.

Common Cause North Carolina has been a longtime opponent of all forms of gerrymandering, working with a broad bipartisan coalition to champion impartial redistricting for more than a decade.

The move to challenge partisan gerrymandering in the courts comes just months after North Carolina lawmakers were required to redraw congressional districts found by a panel of federal judges to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. Legislative leaders replaced that racially gerrymandered congressional map with what they openly boasted were partisan gerrymanders, crafted with the sole aim of unfairly maximizing their party’s advantage.

“Perhaps for the first time ever in North Carolina, state legislators have freely and publicly admitted that they gerrymandered for rank partisan advantage,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC. “That open admission was done because the courts have placed limits on racial gerrymandering, but have left unanswered the question of whether partisan gerrymandering is allowable. We believe our case can finally make clear that gerrymandering of any kind violates the constitutional rights of North Carolina voters.”

Phillips added, “What is at stake is whether politicians have the power to manipulate voting maps to unjustly insulate themselves from accountability, or whether voters have the fundamental right as Americans to choose their representatives in fair and open elections. We believe this is a vital case that could strike at the very foundation of gerrymandering.”

The challenge in Common Cause v. Rucho argues that the legislature’s blatant partisan gerrymander is a clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The full lawsuit filing can be read online at

The North Carolina gerrymandering suit comes as Common Cause has filed a separate court challenge to gerrymandered voting maps drawn by Maryland Democrats.

North Carolina has long felt the negative impact of partisan gerrymandering. Since 1992, nearly half of all legislative races have had just one candidate on the ballot, leaving millions of voters with no choice at the ballot box. Similarly, the state’s congressional maps have been gerrymandered by the legislature in such a way as to minimize competition, undermining the right of voters to have a voice in who represents them.

In the face of ongoing gerrymandering, there has been growing bipartisan support for reform. Last year, a majority of NC House members co-sponsored House Bill 92, which would have taken the power of redistricting out of the hands of partisan legislators and given it to nonpartisan legislative staff. However, that bill was not given a vote in the legislature.

At the same time, over 240 civic leaders across North Carolina have signed a petition calling on the legislature to pass independent redistricting reform. And both Gov. Pat McCrory and his 2016 gubernatorial opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper, are on record opposing gerrymandering, as are former governors Jim Martin and Jim Hunt.

Common Cause North Carolina is a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging citizen participation in democracy, and is part of the national Common Cause grassroots network of 400,000 members in 35 states.

Gerrymandering is bad for business in North Carolina

Posted by on Jun 6, 2016

Over 100 CEOs of prominent corporations have urged North Carolina lawmakers to rethink the passage of House Bill 2, passed in a day to block Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance. And nearly half of North Carolina voters want to repeal HB2, according to new survey results from Public Policy Polling.

But it’s unclear whether legislators will feel any motivation to listen.

The troubling reality is that 90 percent of lawmakers voting in favor of HB2 either face no competition in this fall’s election or are running in such heavily gerrymandered districts that they are virtually guaranteed victory.

Gerrymandering is largely the reason for the lack of competition in our elections and a chief culprit behind increased polarization in our state’s politics, undercutting the bipartisan cooperation that has made North Carolina great.

Over many decades, our state has been among the fastest-growing in the nation, with people from across the country and around the globe drawn to North Carolina as a place where innovation is embraced and businesses can thrive. We owe much of the prosperity here to moderate voices from a broad spectrum of political views, advanced by North Carolinians who have worked together to promote our state’s best interests.

Democrats and Republicans partnered on such forward-thinking projects as the Research Triangle Park. That bipartisan spirit has also been a driving force in Charlotte’s becoming a banking capital of the U.S. And the longtime investment in our world-class universities has made North Carolina home to the best and brightest talent in any career field.

However, that tradition of moderation and cooperation is jeopardized by gerrymandering, which has created an atmosphere where candidates have more incentive to speak to either the far left or far right than to seek a more centrist way.

“Compromise” should not be a dirty word in politics, but rather be a sign that principled people can find common ground on important issues. That’s why a growing number of civic leaders, along with a majority of voters across the state, support an independent process for redistricting in North Carolina.

Instead of politicians drawing their own voting maps, redistricting should be entrusted to a nonpartisan body that can ensure congressional and legislative districts reflect our state’s population. Fairly drawn districts can ensure that candidates have to speak to a broad range of citizens in order to win on Election Day and that voters have a chance to hold their elected officials accountable.

In turn, our state would have a reliably moderate political climate, giving businesses and residents confidence that we won’t see rash and radical swings of the political pendulum from one extreme to the other.

Thankfully, many Republicans and Democrats join us in supporting a better way to draw our voting maps. Both Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper have called for an end to gerrymandering. And just last year, a bipartisan majority of N.C. House members co-sponsored a bill to establish independent redistricting.

With such strong bipartisan backing, we call on our state’s political leaders and legislative candidates running in 2016 to support redistricting reform and to do all in their power to establish a truly fair and independent process for drawing North Carolina’s voting maps.

It would make possible something we can’t do now: hold our elected officials accountable.

Gerrymandering is costing NC taxpayers millions

Posted by on Jun 1, 2016

A special congressional election brought about by the legislature’s unconstitutional gerrymandering of voting maps will cost North Carolina taxpayers millions of dollars and likely result in low voter turnout next week.

That was the message at a press conference organized by the nonpartisan Common Cause North Carolina inside the state legislature on Wednesday. The good-government group highlighted the estimated $9.5 million price tag for the June 7 special congressional election that is the direct result of state lawmakers’ gerrymandering.

In February, a panel of federal judges found that legislators had unlawfully gerrymandered North Carolina’s congressional voting maps along racial lines and ordered them to be redrawn, leading to a delayed primary vote and in some cases dramatic changes to the state’s congressional districts.

“Clearly, we must fully fund our elections. But this special election is only necessary because the legislature engaged in unconstitutional racial gerrymandering – and the taxpayers of North Carolina are left holding the bill,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC. “We urge lawmakers to move beyond gerrymandering and instead adopt an independent redistricting process that would spare our state from the expensive lawsuits and delayed elections that plague partisan map-drawing.”

As Phillips pointed out, the $9.5 million cost of the special election brought about by the legislature’s gerrymandering could otherwise be used for such worthwhile projects as hiring some 270 new teachers, 280 state troopers or 300 park rangers. Alternatively, the $9.5 million could pay for more than 300,000 new textbooks for North Carolina students.

Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst for the nonpartisan John Locke Foundation, said that both parties have been guilty of gerrymandering when they’ve held the reins of power in the legislature, resulting in a cycle of costly court battles.

“The last time Democrats drew partisan election maps for North Carolina in 2001, legal challenges took up time and generated expenses for state taxpayers for most of the next decade – culminating in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that forced lawmakers to redraw election lines as late as 2009,” Kokai said. “Now, half a decade after Republicans had their first chance to draw partisan election maps in 2011, legal challenges are taking up time and generating expenses for state taxpayers again. It’s a pattern that’s likely to be repeated – decade after decade – as long as the process of drawing election maps remains in the hands of legislators seeking partisan advantage.”

Jane Pinsky, director of the nonpartisan NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, said that support for independent redistricting is growing among North Carolina voters and political leaders that are fed up with partisan gerrymandering.

She noted that House Bill 92, introduced last year with a bipartisan majority of NC House members as co-sponsors, would take redistricting power out of the hands of lawmakers and give it to nonpartisan legislative staff.  That measure is modeled after a redistricting system used successfully by Iowa for over 30 years.

“For three decades, Iowa has used its impartial redistricting process without controversy or litigation. Meanwhile, North Carolina has had to endure dozens of costly lawsuits and several delayed elections because of gerrymandering,” Pinsky said. “Partisan gerrymandering is a bad habit that North Carolina needs to break. The voters of our state deserve a redistricting process that is free from political manipulation.”

A majority of North Carolina voters support moving to an independent redistricting process, according to a February survey by Public Policy Polling. And in the past year, over 240 locally elected officials from 128 town and cities across the state have signed a petition urging the legislature to enact redistricting reform. Both Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper have spoken out against gerrymandering, as have former governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin.

Former judges kick off independent redistricting project at Duke

Posted by on Apr 22, 2016

Duke University on Thursday was host to an effort showing how North Carolina can move beyond gerrymandering and instead adopt an independent process for drawing the state’s voting maps.

“This is something that needs to be improved and we could sit back and complain about it, but instead we said ‘let’s try,'” said Henry Frye, former chief justice of the NC Supreme Court and a participant in the redistricting project.

Organized by Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and Common Cause North Carolina, the independent redistricting simulation featured a bipartisan panel of 10 former judges and justices brought together to draw new, but unofficial, congressional districts as an example of fair and impartial redistricting.

“We’re hoping that this project will help better understand the issue, better understand its complexity and some potential solutions that we think might be available,” said Tom Ross, the Terry Sanford Distinguished Fellow at Duke University.

Thursday’s event was an orientation, with the panel of former judges and members of the public getting a primer on how gerrymandering has impacted North Carolina, as well as how demographics are rapidly changing the state’s population – which could be a compelling reason for Republicans and Democrats alike to take up redistricting reform.

“This is an insurance policy for both parties, because if you have something that is more fair then you can possibly, if you’re in the minority party, not be gerrymandered into irrelevancy,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina.

Former NC Supreme Court justice Bob Orr, another redistricting panel participant, said the state’s growing population and the complexity of the issues it faces “compels both political parties to look for ways to have a better system of government.”

Several Duke students in attendance at Thursday’s event said gerrymandering is an issue that impacts voters of all ages.

“The concept of gerrymandering is undemocratic. I think that politicians getting to choose their own voters, as opposed to the other way around, is the wrong way to do it,” said Hunter Buckworth, a student at Duke. “I think the Sanford School taking an initiative to see if we can make it better is definitely a worthwhile project.”

The panel of former judges will reconvene later this spring or summer to begin drawing congressional districts as a model of independent redistricting for North Carolina.

Polls have consistently shown bipartisan support for independent redistricting among a strong majority of North Carolina voters. At the same time, over 240 local elected officials from 128 towns and cities across North Carolina have signed a petition calling on the legislature to enact independent redistricting. And both Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper have spoken out against gerrymandering, as have former governors Jim Martin and Jim Hunt.