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.
The School of Public & International Affairs at NC State University presents a look at how dramatically changing demographics in North Carolina could affect political gerrymandering. The presentation was part of the 2015 Abe Holtzman Public Policy Forum.
Control of the NC General Assembly could be uncertain in the decade ahead as the state sees dramatic demographic shifts, according to a new analysis from political scientists at NC State University.
According to Dr. Andrew Taylor and Dr. Mark Nance, many legislative districts currently leaning Republican will see a shift toward Democratic voters – and vice versa – in the coming years. In turn, it will be unclear which party might control the legislature for the next rounds of redistricting in 2021 and 2031.
The analysis by Taylor and Nance was presented as part of the Abe Holtzman Public Policy Forum at NC State University on Wednesday night.
Under North Carolina’s longstanding system, whichever party controls the General Assembly is also in charge of the decennial redistricting process in which the state’s congressional and legislative maps are redrawn. Redistricting has been highly partisan under both Democratic and Republican majorities, leading to districts that stifle competition and diminish the ability of voters to choose their representatives.
However, Nance and Taylor say that rapidly changing demographics will make political gerrymandering far more difficult to pass judicial scrutiny and less sure to withstand even small waves in future elections. In turn, gerrymandering will become a greater risk for whichever party is in charge of the legislature.
“Both parties in the past have been reluctant to establish an independent redistricting process, perhaps because they believed they would be in the majority when redistricting rolled back around,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “However, this new analysis gives Republicans and Democrats a powerful reason to pass redistricting reform now, instead of gambling on which party might be in charge in the coming years.”
Phillips said that partisan gerrymandering has alarmed many civic leaders across the state, with more than 240 elected officials from around North Carolina signing a petition in support of redistricting reform. And almost a dozen municipalities have passed resolutions asking the legislature to establish an independent redistricting process.
“We’re seeing a growing number of civic and business leaders from across the political spectrum express real concern about the polarizing and destabilizing effects of gerrymandering,” Phillips said. “Independent redistricting would provide greater political stability for North Carolina, which could make our state more attractive to the business community while strengthening voter confidence in the integrity of our elections.”
It’s been more than four years and two state elections since the latest North Carolina voting districts were created.
But they are still under a cloud of legal challenges that have already found their way to the U.S. Supreme Court once and probably will land there again.
The question is not whether the Republican majority in the General Assembly gerrymandered the districts to gain political advantage. Of course they did, and that’s legal and constitutional. What’s at issue here is whether legislative mapmakers went beyond politics and used race to design districts that also give them an advantage – which is neither legal nor constitutional.
The N.C. Supreme Court ruled last year that the redistricting was legal in all ways and that the new districts could stand. But the decision – in which former state Sen. Margaret Dickson of Fayetteville is the lead plaintiff – was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In April, that court tossed the case back to the N.C. Supreme Court, saying it must reconsider whether lawmakers relied too heavily on race.
The redistricting did create some bizarre-shaped districts, especially those created to insure success for African-American candidates. But it’s still uncertain if those districts were created by a legally unacceptable process.
The state Supreme Court held its second review of the case on Monday, and justices seemed perplexed by what they saw as sharply differing precedents in federal court decisions, seeking explanations from lawyers for both sides.
No matter how the state justices rule, another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is seen as inevitable by both sides. The N.C. justices didn’t say Monday how quickly they would rule. We hope a decision will come before campaigning begins in earnest for 2016 state and federal elections.
We’d also like to see this as a final chapter in a saga that plays out almost like clockwork after every decade’s exercise in redistricting. It’s a frustrating, time-and-money-wasting ritual that undermines voters’ confidence in their electoral system. At various times in the past, both Democrats and Republicans have united around plans to create a nonpartisan legislative redistricting commission. Such a measure has bipartisan support in the N.C. House today, but not in the Senate.
It’s time to stop this endless cycle of protests, lawsuits, special legislative sessions and delayed elections. Let’s turn redistricting over to an impartial panel and make the voter, not political power, the most important principle.
UNDER THE DOME
JULY 17, 2015
Nonpartisan redistricting supporters resurrect dead Gov. Elbridge Gerry
Namesake of gerrymandering appears on Twitter
N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is behind account
‘Redistricting reform’ bills have gone nowhere this session
Gov. Elbridge Gerry
Gov. Elbridge Gerry
BY COLIN CAMPBELL
Former Vice President and Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry has been dead for 200 years, but an advocacy group is bringing him back this month to lobby for nonpartisan redistricting.
The term gerrymandering is named for him because he redistricted the Massachusetts state Senate to benefit his political party in 1812. As of this month, Gerry has a Twitter account in which he lobbies to reclaim his legacy by ending the use of gerrymandering to draw district lines.
The account – and an accompanying opinion piece in Friday’s News & Observer – are authored by the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, which is pushing for nonpartisan redistricting in North Carolina.
The group is encouraging supporters to tweet 271st birthday wishes to the dead governor.
State legislation to create a nonpartisan redistricting reform process have drawn dozens of co-sponsors from both parties, but neither the House or Senate has held a hearing on the bills this year.
And with the legislature now turning its focus to the state budget, the bills could be as dead as Gov. Gerry.
UNDER THE DOME
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article27489067.html#storylink=cpy