FROM THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER
By Richard Vinroot and Charles Meeker
Special to the Observer
Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014
Last month, North Carolinians went to the polls to have their say. Slightly over half of us cast our votes for a Republican to be our representative in Congress. A little less than half of us voted for a Democrat. Despite that close vote, our U.S. House delegation to Washington now consists of 10 Republicans and three Democrats. As we see it, that math doesn’t add up – no matter which side of the political aisle you are on.
On Election Day, we all want our voices to be heard. But politicians more interested in protecting their jobs and their parties have prevented this from happening.
Every 10 years, following the U.S. Census, states re-draw the election map to adjust for changes in population. In North Carolina, members of the N.C. General Assembly are responsible for drawing those maps. Thus, it is understandable that when each party gains control, they draw the maps to protect themselves and their side. But that process is not good for the people of North Carolina and the future of our great state.
The process of drawing voting maps – or redistricting – has a tremendous impact on our government, on issues we care about and our daily lives. Those simple lines on a map affect our environment, the education our children receive, the jobs we have, the roads we ride on and the taxes we pay.
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.
We also believe that North Carolinians have had enough. For that reason, we, and other North Carolinians who care about the value of our vote and the future of our state, are supporting a transparent, impartial and fair process for redistricting. We urge you to join us.
The model we support is based on the way Iowa has drawn its maps since 1980. Their maps are required to have districts that are compact, contiguous and follow state and federal law. They cannot be drawn based on the political makeup of districts, past voter turnout or other partisan factors. Instead, the maps are drawn by professionals, reviewed by citizens and then approved or disapproved by the legislature in a timely fashion.
We respectfully urge the newly elected members of the N.C. General assembly – many of whom have expressed support for our proposal in their public statements – to work with us by passing impartial, fair, nonpartisan redistricting reform in 2015. In our view, there is no better way to show respect for our voters and improve our democracy!
Richard Vinroot, a Republican, is a past mayor of Charlotte. Charles Meeker, a Democrat, is a past mayor of Raleigh.
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/12/10/5375962/were-from-opposing-parties-but.html#.VIjxFynDy6w.facebook#storylink=cpy
News and Observer
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Gov. Pat McCrory agrees. Attorney General Roy Cooper, McCrory’s likely 2016 opponent, agrees. U.S. Sen.-elect Thom Tillis agrees. More than half of the N.C. House of Representatives agrees. About 90 mayors of North Carolina cities agree. Seventy percent of North Carolinians agree. We agree.
What do all of these people agree about? They agree that it is time to change the way North Carolina handles the legislative redistricting process – to give our state a fair and impartial system for drawing legislative and congressional districts and to make their voice heard in elections.
In America, Election Day should be when voters have their say. We expect our elections to be fair and our votes to count. We want to choose the people who represent us, but for the last several decades that is not what has happened. Partisan politicians – Democrats and Republicans alike – have drawn maps to benefit themselves and keep their parties in power.
The results are clear. In 1992, almost half of the voters in North Carolina voted for a Republican for the state Senate, yet only about 30 percent of the senators elected were Republicans. In the election last month, almost half of the voters in North Carolina voted for a Democrat for the U.S. House of Representatives, but Democrats won only three of the 13 congressional races.
Why is there such a disconnect between what voters want and election results? It is because maps are drawn behind closed doors to benefit partisan interests. This has created districts that short-circuit the interests of the voters and directly benefit the party in power. Simply put, this is a conflict of interest.
We and other people who value their votes are acting to reform the rules, so the process of drawing election maps will be transparent, impartial and fair.
We need to make sure that elections reflect the will of the people, not the politicians. To do this, voters must be able to select their elected officials, instead of elected officials selecting their voters. Then and only then will we have government of, by and for the people.
North Carolina has taken some small steps toward pulling back the curtain and making the process fair, impartial and transparent, and 2015 is the right time for the General Assembly to take some bigger steps and more fully transform the process.
We are pleased that McCrory, Cooper, Tillis, more than 60 legislators and 90 mayors and a majority of North Carolinians are ready for change. Tell your legislators that you want impartial, fair redistricting to be at the top of their “to-do” list in 2015. Tell them that it is time to demonstrate courage and leadership and to tackle and fix this problem. If we wait, and citizens decide that voting in sham elections is not worth their effort, we put at risk the very foundation of democracy.
John and Ann Campbell are business owners in Raleigh.
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/12/12/4398379/time-for-nonpartisans-to-draw.html?sp=%2F99%2F108%2F374%2F#storylink=cpy
December 23, 2014
Redistricting Continues to Stir Legal Battle in NC
By Blake Hodge
Drawing the congressional map in North Carolina has been a topic of debate, in conversation and in courtrooms, for decades.
The latest rendition of the North Carolina congressional district map is constitutional, according to a State Supreme Court ruling. State Republican lawmakers are responsible for the latest depiction of the districts; the GOP drew the map in 2011, after the last census in 2010. The legal challenge to the map’s constitutionality may not be done, as an appeal to the US Supreme Court is likely. There have been 27 judicial interventions in North Carolina’s drawing of congressional districts in the last 30 years, according to the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.
Jane Pinsky is the director of that organization; she says the challenge to the previous district drawing was followed by a particularly long legal battle, “The 2001 redistricting finished with a lawsuit that was decided in 2009.”
Pinsky says partisan drawings have been the standard in the Tar Heel state. And drawing the map for political gain is technically legal, according to court rulings.
Kareem Crayton is an Associate Professor of Law at UNC; he says that the close ties between race and politics in North Carolina lead to a challenge that most states do not face.
“Is there a way to tease apart this purported concern with race and perhaps hyper-partisanship,” he asks, “in a way that makes a lot of sense to people and, frankly, keeps both the Democrats and Republicans at bay?”
One suggestion has been to look to other states as a model, one in particular being Iowa. Pinsky says their formula is developed by a professional staff and then voted on by legislators.
Professor Crayton adds that many states are looking at Iowa’s model, but there are some inherent issues.
“Iowa, by comparison, is not as ethnically and racially diverse as most other states in the union,” he says. “Certainly among states in the South, where there is a significant African-American population in the state electorate.”
Some states have taken pieces of the Iowa formula and molded it to fit their state’s needs. Ohio has created a new system for drawing their districts, which involves an independent commission drawing the map.
Pinsky says to get to a point where North Carolina deviates from the current formula of the dominant party having ultimate power over the drawings – and the seemingly endless legal battles associated with that –legislators will have to give up their power for drawing the congressional map.
She adds that state house lawmakers have agreed to a plan to move toward a new system on multiple occasions, but senate legislators have refused to move on the plan while litigation is ongoing.
Professor Crayton says that some other states have been successful in taking the power of drawing the map out of the legislator’s hand and allowing the citizens to decide on the congressional districts through a voter referendum.
“When the public gets mad enough and organized enough,” he says, “there usually is an effort to think creatively about a system that can stand any alternative.”
The possibility exists that the lawsuit over North Carolina’s congressional map could be combined with a similar suit out of Alabama and be brought before the US Supreme Court.
Regardless of any legal decision, the next time the lines will be put on a map of the Tar Heel state will be in 2021.
Whether that drawing will remain under our current system or if it will be subject to new – possibly less partisan – guidelines, remains to be seen.
FROM THE RALEIGH NEWS AND OBSERVER
By Lee Mortimer
December 26, 2014
Make no mistake. Republicans who took charge of drawing legislative and congressional district lines after the 2010 census didn’t invent the game of sketching the districts to give them a partisan advantage in electing legislators and members of Congress of their party.
Yes, the Democrats who ran the show in North Carolina did that for decades.
That’s what happens when lawmakers are put in charge of drawing districts. They want to stay in power. So after a census, they get out the maps and commence to get creative with district lines, even if it means districts look more like ink blots.
Now at issue, and regrettably upheld by the N.C. Supreme Court, are the legislative and district maps drawn by Republicans in 2011. Those fighting the maps, including the NAACP, say with good cause that the maps packed African-Americans into certain districts to weaken their influence in others. Black voters tend to be Democratic voters.
Advocates claimed they had to draw the districts the way they did to ensure minority representation under the federal Voting Rights Act. Opponents of the maps are understandably skeptical that a Republican Party under the control of its right wing has much sympathy for the representation of minorities in terms of their voting clout.
Now the issue may move to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The confrontation could be avoided if North Carolina followed the lead of Ohio, where Republicans in control participated in putting together a plan to have a bipartisan process for drawing voting districts. The move is intended, The New York Times reports, to make races more competitive. That’s healthier for legislatures and Congress, and it makes elected representatives more attentive to their constituents rather than the extreme wings of their parties. As things stand, even when there are 435 U.S. House seats up for grabs every two years, only a few are really competitive.
Ohio’s plan prohibits maps drawn to favor one party. It may force legislators and members of Congress toward a more reasonable middle. Minority members of a board that draws maps would be allowed to object to them, and if they did so, the maps would be in effect for only four years, not the 10 between censuses. That’s obviously an incentive for the party in the majority to be fair with the minority.
Bob Phillips of Common Cause North Carolina condemns the way districts are drawn here as harshly partisan and notes there have been “nearly three dozen lawsuits” over districts since 1980. He rightly advocates that partisanship must be eliminated from the process in order to have maps that would be “fair and impartial.”
Republicans in Ohio are in control now, but one reason they’re favoring reform is that they know eventually the political pendulum will swing away from them. Fair redistricting will ensure they’re not cut out of the decision-making process even if they’re out of power. Would that North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers would follow that lead.
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/12/26/4430423/in-nc-end-the-cycle-of-gerrymandering.html#storylink=cpy
From the Raleigh News and Observer
BY LEE MORTIMER
January 7, 2015
The lopsided 2014 election results leave little reason to expect Republicans and Democrats to work together in the upcoming General Assembly session.
Republicans are riding high after retaining veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers. Democrats believe that the GOP’s super-majority control is undeserved and that gerrymandered elections unfairly pushed them to the sidelines.
Ironically, agreement may be attainable on the very issue that has most divided the parties – redistricting. That is, if they can take a cue from what Republicans and Democrats recently achieved in Ohio.
It was considered a minor miracle last month when both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly reached broad bi-partisan consensus on reforming how election districts will be redrawn after the 2020 census. Ohio legislators overwhelmingly agreed for voters to decide this November on adding redistricting reform to the state constitution.
That’s precisely the outcome redistricting reform advocates in North Carolina hope to achieve. There was brief headway in 2011 when the state House passed legislation for “nonpartisan redistricting.” But it stalled in the state Senate and hasn’t moved since.
For now, the parties remain locked in a legal standoff. In mid-2013, a three-judge panel unanimously upheld the Republican-drawn maps, and late last month the N.C. Supreme Court concurred in a 4-2 ruling. Voter-rights litigants allied with Democrats vow to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In December 2013, Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican and longtime redistricting reform advocate, told an audience of reform supporters that his party would be more receptive if appeals were out of the way. He said for Republicans to embrace reform while facing a legal challenge might be seen as admitting their maps were not legitimate.
“North Carolinians to End Gerrymandering Now” is a bipartisan coalition of 90 mayors, progressive and conservative organizations, and other political and business leaders. The coalition is lobbying for action this year to put a state constitutional amendment to overhaul redistricting before the voters in 2016.
To date, Republicans have been reluctant to bring up the issue. And back-to-back court victories would seem to give them more incentive to keep the proposal on ice. But similarities in North Carolina and Ohio make prospects for breaking the stalemate seem not quite so improbable.
Like North Carolina, Ohio Republicans have super-majority control of their legislature. Some GOP leaders expressed embarrassment that gerrymandering padded their margins. Also in Ohio, the state Supreme Court upheld the Republican redistricting plan. The one difference between the two states is that Ohio Democrats did not appeal to federal court.
A compromise here, whereby Democrats drop their lawsuit in exchange for a commitment to meaningful reform from Republicans, would be good for both sides. The GOP reaped an unexpected windfall this decade, but the tables could turn against them when districts are redrawn post-2020. Republicans have always favored reform and probably prefer to get on with it.
The challengers might have grounds for linking their case to other “racial bias” cases that the Supreme Court has heard or may take up. Democrats could eventually be vindicated in their claim that Republicans unconstitutionally weakened the African-American vote by “packing” too many black voters into too few districts.
But beyond vindication, what more do they gain? It’s been a lengthy process already and could require months, possibly years, before a final ruling. Even if the Supreme Court eventually ordered new districts, Republicans would still be in charge of the redrawing. They could tweak the lines to comply with the ruling, with little or no gain for Democrats.
When the court ordered Democrats to redraw districts after Republicans prevailed in litigation last decade, they were able to redraw maps from which they actually gained ground on Republicans in the next three elections. The same could happen to Democrats if Republicans redraw the lines.
Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats in Ohio have broken the partisan impasse and are joining hands to secure their voters’ approval of an historic redistricting compromise. North Carolinians should settle for nothing less.
Lee Mortimer of Durham, an election reform advocate, served on a General Assembly Election
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2015/01/07/4457633/ohio-shows-pathway-to-reform-redistricting.html#storylink=cpy
In a Break From Partisan Rancor, Ohio Moves to Make Elections More Competitive
By TRIP GABRIELDEC. 20, 2014
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Of 435 House races in November, only a few dozen were considered competitive — a result of decades of drawing district lines for partisan advantage, generally by state legislatures.
But in an era of hyperpartisan gerrymandering, which many blame for the polarization of state and national politics, Ohio took a step in the opposite direction last week. With the support of both parties, the Ohio House gave final approval Wednesday to a plan to draw voting districts for the General Assembly using a bipartisan process, intended to make elections more competitive.
“I think it will be a new day in Ohio,” said Representative Matt Huffman, a Republican who shepherded the plan.
While the proposal is aimed narrowly at state legislative districts, it could have an indirect impact on congressional districts because they are drawn by state lawmakers. President Obama carried Ohio, a quintessential swing state, by two percentage points in 2012. Yet Republicans have overwhelming majorities in Columbus, the capital, and a 12-to-4 advantage in congressional seats.
“When you’re an outsider looking in, it’s almost shocking,” said Senator Joe Schiavoni, the Democratic leader in the State Senate.
The plan explicitly prohibits maps drawn to favor or disfavor one party.
Republicans, who in some ways acted against their own interests, were motivated partly out of fear of a potential voter referendum that could impose an even more sweeping overhaul.
They also recognized that they could slip into the minority one day. “Right now, we’ve got 65 of 99 seats in the House and 12 of 16 congressmen,” Mr. Huffman said. “But in a state like Ohio, that’s not always going to be the case.”
The proposed changes, which Ohioans must vote on in a November 2015 referendum to amend the State Constitution, would not go into effect until the next redistricting, in 2021.
In 2010, national Republicans mounted a major effort to capture statehouses in the midterm elections, with their eye on controlling the redrafting of district maps that follows each census. They succeeded in many places. Presidential battlegrounds like North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia send many more Republicans than Democrats to Congress, a factor in the party’s ability to gain and then increase its majority in the House over the last three elections.
No state has moved more significantly than Ohio since 2012 to take raw partisanship out of the process, said Morgan Cullen, a policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Jon Husted, Ohio’s secretary of state and a Republican, praised the plan as a step toward ending polarization in the General Assembly. Many members face competition only in primaries, pushing them to cater to ideological extremes.
“We elect people that get there by winning primaries, and we say, ‘Now you come together and do the people’s business,’ ” Mr. Husted, a former speaker of the State House, said. “If your electoral incentive is only to care about staying loyal to the base voter in a primary election,” he added, “then your incentive to govern” is small.
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Senator Nina Turner, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Husted for secretary of state last month, said she thought the plan would create a more balanced General Assembly. “I always say Ohio is conservative by design and not by desire,” she said. “This really is a tremendous deal.”
But some Democrats said the change did not go far enough because it excluded congressional maps.
Republicans said that was because of the chance that the United States Supreme Court would invalidate an overhaul in a ruling expected next year. Lawmakers in Arizona are suing to reverse a ballot initiative that took the congressional map-drawing decision out of the hands of the Legislature and gave it to an independent commission.
In 37 states, legislatures now draw voting maps. The 13 others use commissions that are, in theory, less partisan. In some states, the commissions are independent, and in others, their members are politically appointed. That has been Ohio’s system since the 1970s. The Apportionment Board is composed of three elected state officials — the governor, auditor and secretary of state — and one member from each party chosen by the legislature. Republicans have controlled it for three decades.
The new plan would add two members, one from each party. And if the minority-party members did not approve of the district maps, the changes would last only four years, not the traditional 10. Partisan control of the board could seesaw in four years after statewide elections, so this would create an incentive to win the minority’s approval.
“I always remind folks that just because it’s worked for us for 30 years doesn’t mean we might not lose the Apportionment Board, and it would be used against you with the same efficiency you used it,” Mr. Husted said.
Still, there is no guarantee the plan would lead to a more politically balanced or moderate legislature. Americans have increasingly sorted themselves into communities that are ideologically like-minded, political scientists say. In rural and urban areas alike, the chances that voters of opposite parties live near each other have diminished.
California, which introduced a rigorously fair redistricting process before the 2010 census, is an object lesson. There, a 14-member, multipartisan commission draws district lines. In 2012, using new maps, Democrats enlarged their supermajorities in the Legislature.
“There’s no perfect map, no panacea,” said Mr. Cullen, of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Two nonpartisan groups that have pushed for decades for changes in Ohio, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, praised the plan to a point. It “makes significant strides to address gerrymandering of state legislative districts,” Ann E. Henkener of the League of Women Voters said in a statement, but “we are disappointed that it leaves out Congress.”
On Wednesday, after the House overwhelmingly passed the final version of the proposal on its last day of business for the year, redistricting supporters in the gallery broke into applause. Speaker William G. Batchelder, a Republican, stayed his gavel as he told lawmakers, “I’m not going to mention I’m not meant to allow that, because it was so damn refreshing.”
Correction: December 28, 2014
An article last Sunday about final passage of a proposal to overhaul redistricting for Ohio’s General Assembly misidentified the source of applause after the measure passed in the State House on Dec. 17. Supporters of redistricting seated in the gallery applauded, not House members.
A version of this article appears in print on December 21, 2014, on page A28 of the New York edition with the headline: In a Break From Partisan Rancor, Ohio Moves to Make Elections More Competitive. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe