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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.

Analysis: Changing demographics could make gerrymandering a political risk in NC

Posted by on Apr 19, 2016

North Carolina’s unprecedented population growth will have a significant impact on the state’s upcoming political redistricting and could make gerrymandering a big gamble for both parties. That was the message presented at a press briefing Tuesday in the NC legislature.

“2020 is a question mark and the question the two parties need to ask themselves is can they bet their parties’ futures on the outcome of the 2020 election?” said Jane Pinsky, director of the nonpartisan NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.
According to Dr. Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography at the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s growth has outpaced the national growth rate for decades. Based on her analysis, if current state and national trends continue, North Carolina will pick up a 14th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives during the post-2020 reapportionment process.

But Tippett said North Carolina’s growth has been highly uneven around the state.

“For example, seven North Carolina counties were among the 100 fastest-growing in the nation between 2010 and 2015. At the same time, 48 of the state’s 100 counties lost population,” Tippett said. “Whether North Carolina has 13 or 14 congressional seats after 2020, all congressional districts and state legislative districts will require significant boundary changes due to these internal population shifts.”

Dr. Mark Nance, a political scientist at NC State University, said rapid demographic changes may cause widespread uncertainty for the state’s political climate and could make partisan gerrymandering a risky move for whichever party controls the legislature in the coming decade.

“For our elected officials, these dramatic population shifts mean that their districts may well look very different in five or 10 years than they do now. This spells trouble for politicians who see gerrymandering as their primary electoral strategy,” Nance said. “Mix that with the win-small, lose-big strategy of gerrymandering, and the ironic result is that the majority party will feel the brunt of these shifts first, as once-safe districts become competitive again. For that reason, it’s arguably in all of their interests to put in place an insurance policy for redistricting that honors the principle of one person, one vote.”

Pinsky pointed to House Bill 92, cosponsored by a bipartisan majority of NC House members last year, which would take redistricting authority out of the hands of partisan lawmakers and give it to nonpartisan legislative staff. That bill has not yet received a vote in the legislature.

“When HB92 was introduced in 2015, Republican House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam warned his colleagues on both sides of the aisle that gambling on the 2020 election was not a risk they should take,” Pinsky said.

Over 240 local elected officials from 128 towns and cities across the state have signed a petition calling for the legislature to enact independent redistricting. Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper have both called for an end to gerrymandering, as have former governors Jim Martin, a Republican, and Jim Hunt, a Democrat.

The NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is a nonpartisan partnership of over 25 organizations working to promote good-government policies that level the playing field for the citizens of North Carolina.

More information on the effort to enact independent redistricting in North Carolina can be found at EndGerrymanderingNow.org.

At gerrymandering trial in Greensboro, coalition calls for reform

Posted by on Apr 15, 2016

On a day when state lawmakers took the stand inside a federal courtroom to defend gerrymandered voting maps, members of the nonpartisan NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform gathered outside that courthouse in Greensboro to make the case for independent redistricting reform.

Jane Pinsky, director of the coalition, noted that this week’s federal trial is just the latest in a series of court cases swirling around North Carolina’s voting maps, with more than 30 judicial interventions occurring over the past three decades because of partisan gerrymandering.

“North Carolina has been through more than its share of lawsuits, postponed elections, special sessions of the NC General Assembly, and ongoing confusion,” Pinsky said. “We need a new, impartial process that puts voters in charge of redistricting and now is the time to do that.”

The coalition is urging the General Assembly to adopt a nonpartisan process in time for the next round of redistricting in 2021. A bipartisan majority of NC House members have co-sponsored a proposal – House Bill 92 – that would take redistricting authority away from partisan lawmakers and give it to nonpartisan legislative staff.

“That bipartisan bill could be taken up during the upcoming legislative session, but only if citizens across this state contact their representatives and demand action,” Pinsky said.

Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation, said that independent redistricting would protect the right of voters to have a say in who represents them.

“Regardless of the outcome of the current legal disputes, North Carolina needs a new process for drawing its election maps,” Kokai said. “Representative government is based on the key principle that voters must retain ultimate sovereignty. In other words, voters must choose their elected leaders, not the other way around.”

Rev. Earl Johnson, a board member with Common Cause NC, said that partisan gerrymandering undermines the ability of North Carolinians to fully exercise their right to vote.

“Partisan politics shouldn’t be part of the redistricting process, because it creates gerrymandered districts that are non-competitive and marginalizes the voice of all voters, especially African-Americans,” Johnson said. “We need a redistricting system that instills confidence among all citizens that our representative democracy is fair and truly reflective of North Carolina.”

This week’s trial considering challenges to the state’s legislative districts comes just two months after another panel of federal judges ruled that two of North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts had been racially gerrymandered and ordered them to be redrawn. That decision necessitated delaying the state’s congressional primary until the summer.

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.

The NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is a nonpartisan partnership of over 25 organizations working to promote good-government policies that level the playing field for the citizens of North Carolina.

NC A&T students speak out on campus gerrymandering

Posted by on Mar 22, 2016

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.

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

Posted by on Feb 20, 2016

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.”

In wake of gerrymandering ruling, give reform a chance

Posted by on Feb 8, 2016

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.