After living most of my life in Florida–a state with enough retrogression problems of its own–I am still struck by the comparative powerlessness of the people of North Carolina. Down in Florida, as you surely have noticed, the people approved a pair of initiatives to forbid gerrymandering in Congressional and legislative redistricting. Wonder of wonders, the Florida Supreme Court put teeth into those amendments last week, tossing eight Congressional districts, and is likely to do the same with state Senate districts in subsequent litigation. The points are that the people had the power of initiative and used it to good effect, and the Supreme Court itself is insulated from politics by having a merit selection and retention system. (That isn’t going to last because of Jeb Bush’s changes to merit selection, but that’s another story.) Florida also has home rule, so the Legislature could never do what ours in NC just did.
The people of North Carolina need a reform crusade: initiative, recall, and home rule. The more dramatic we make it, the more likely it will help elect sympathetic legislators. The question: How do we get there?
The Fayetteville Observer on Thursday offers a clear call for redistricting reform in North Carolina after this week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s independent commission.
The editorial rightly notes the unfortunately truth that “lawsuits against redistricting are a North Carolina tradition” and “redistricting has always been done for political advantage, no matter which party was in charge.”
“That’s why 63 members of the N.C. House have endorsed an initiative to move redistricting out of the General Assembly and give it to a nonpartisan commission,” according to the Fayetteville Observer. “The supporters are bipartisan, joined by former Govs. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, and Jim Martin, a Republican. Rep. Paul Stam, the Republican House speaker pro tem, has led efforts for the commission in the House.”
We hope lawmakers will heed the call of the Fayetteville Observer editorial board, along with so many others in North Carolina supporting common-sense redistricting reform, and help us end gerrymandering in our state.
Richard Craver/Winston-Salem Journal
North Carolina – at least for now – is not likely to feel a ripple effect from Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona’s right to have an independent commission handle congressional redistricting.
The court ruling affected 13 states – none in the Southeast – that use commissions as part of their congressional redistricting process every 10 years. The goal of the commissions is limiting partisan influence.
By comparison, North Carolina redistricting is handled by the General Assembly, which has received criticism for being partisan in developing map lines, depending on which party controls the legislature.
“The court opted not to place a barrier in the way of independent congressional-redistricting commissions that are in effect or might be contemplated by other states, such as North Carolina,” said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University.
Three House and one Senate bills have been introduced during the current legislative session, none of which have been acted upon.
“The Supreme Court ruling clarifies that the redistricting commission bills filed in the General Assembly this year are constitutional,” said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, and a co-sponsor of House Bill 92. “That ruling removes one of the objections.”
Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and president pro tem, had a one-word answer – “No” – when asked if the U.S. Supreme Court decision directly affects N.C.’s redistricting process.
A more pivotal legal case affecting North Carolina redistricting is set for Aug. 31. That’s when the N.C. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments addressing challenges to the 2011 redistricting maps that also set legislative districts.
In April, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to N.C. Supreme Court with instructions to reconsider a December decision that upheld the maps. The case is Dickson vs. Rucho.
Margaret Dickson, a former state legislator, is serving as plaintiff. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, is the primary defendant for the legislature. Dickson’s lawsuit, backed by the state NAACP chapter, says the aim of the current redistricting maps is to dilute the black vote in violation of the U.S. and state constitutions.
“The result has been a lack of competition in our state’s congressional and legislative elections, depriving North Carolina voters of having a real voice in choosing their representatives,” left-leaning advocacy group Common Cause N.C. said.
Dinan said the biggest difference between the Arizona redistricting case and North Carolina is North Carolina doesn’t have a provision for the citizen initiative process.
“There was a very small chance — or at least speculation — that if the court did find fault with the Arizona redistricting commission that the court could have gone so far as to invalidate any independent congressional-redistricting commissions, whether they were established through the initiative process or by some other process,” Dinan said.
“The argument would have been that the Constitution says congressional redistricting must be done by state legislatures, and no other body can perform this role.
“Such a sweeping ruling would have had major implications for any state contemplating establishing an independent commission to handle congressional redistricting,” Dinan said.
Bi-partisan support is there
House Bill 92 has three Republican and one Democratic primary co-sponsors and 59 co-sponsors, including Reps. Ed Hanes and Evelyn Terry of Forsyth.
That bill would give redistricting authority to a nonpartisan legislative staff panel with both parties having representation.
It would require legislative districts to be within 5 percent of the “ideal population,” and also be comprised of districts that meet at more than just adjoining corners.
Ideal population is defined as keeping districts, whether congressional or legislative, roughly equal in terms of population “as nearly as is practicable,” according to Joseph Levitt, a law professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, congressional districts would be required to be within 0.1 percent of the ideal population.
Despite having more than half of the House as sponsors, the Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission bill has not been acted on since sent to the House Elections committee Feb. 18.
“Bipartisan support exists in the N.C. House to establish a commission,” Insko said.
“What would help move the bills forward is increasing public support. The gerrymandered districts will not support some sitting Republicans in the NC Senate due to population shifts.”
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause N.C., said he is hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court ruling will build momentum “to take partisan politics out of the redistricting process.”
“We urge the General Assembly to pass House Bill 92 and establish a fair system for drawing our state’s voting maps.”
Gov. Pat McCrory, as well as former governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin, has expressed support for redistricting reform. Also on board for reform are the right-leaning John Locke Foundation and the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center.
“The outcome of this case could have a long-term impact on efforts to change North Carolina’s redistricting process to one involving an independent commission or legislative staffers,” said Mitch Kokai, a policy analyst for the Locke Foundation
Monday, June 29th, the US Supreme Court upheld the right of Arizonans to use a citizens’ initiative to draw Congressional districts and reduce gerrymandering. This is good news for the people of Arizona but doesn’t help North Carolinians end gerrymandering in North Carolina.
Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, who with former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker is a leader of the campaign to change how North Carolina does redistricting said “The decision is good news because it reinforces the importance of citizens in the redistricting process. North Carolinians need to keep working to make a change our system. ”
North Carolinians do not have a voice in redistricting. For more than four decades, election maps have been drawn by the party in power, behind closed doors to keep themselves in power. Districts are drawn to favor candidates from the majority party and not to reflect the population of the State
“It is time for the North Carolina General Assembly to respect the views of 70% of North Carolinians and give North Carolina a fair and impartial redistricting process,” state Charles Meeker, former Mayor of Raleigh.
Joining Mayors Meeker and Vinroot in calling for change are former Governors Hunt and Martin, 63 members of the NC house, and 215 municipal leaders across the state.
Republican former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot and Democratic former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker have united in a call to take partisan politics out of the way North Carolina’s voting maps are drawn.
See the growing list of local elected officials across the state who have also joined the movement to end gerrymandering in North Carolina.
A proposal to reduce the influence of partisan politics in the way North Carolina’s voting maps are drawn has broad, bipartisan support in the N.C. House. Yet the bill appears in danger of being denied a vote in that chamber.
A majority of House members are co-sponsoring House Bill 92, which would take the power of drawing congressional and legislative districts out of the hands of partisan lawmakers and give it to nonpartisan legislative staff, beginning with the next round of redistricting in 2021.
But while an overwhelming number of House members have voiced their support for the measure, House Bill 92 is yet to be taken up by the House Elections Committee.
The “crossover deadline” is Thursday, and most bills – including the redistricting reform measure – must pass at least one chamber by that date in order to be eligible for consideration during the remainder of the 2015-2016 legislative session.
Several facts help make the case for taking up House Bill 92:
• Of the roughly 200 bills passed so far this year by the House, only two have more sponsors than the 63 sponsors enjoyed by House Bill 92.
• In fact, among the bills passed by the House, the average number of sponsors is just 11 – far below House Bill 92.
• Redistricting reform is widely supported by the public, with a 2013 poll conducted by the N.C. Center for Voter Education finding 70 percent of North Carolina voters in favor of implementing an independent process for drawing voting maps, including 73 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of unaffiliated voters.
“Redistricting reform has strong, bipartisan support among lawmakers and the public,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of the nonpartisan Common Cause North Carolina. “We hope legislative leaders will allow House Bill 92 to have the vote it clearly deserves.”