No reason to believe N.C. will fix redistricting mess
Maybe North Carolina will be a shining star of a state working to resolve petty partisanship, and maybe it won’t.
A three-judge federal panel ruled last week that two of the state’s congressional districts were gerrymandered, that they were unconstitutional because they were redrawn by the GOP-led legislature based on racial proportions. That, obviously, is illegal. The panel ruled that these particular districts — the 1st and 2nd — have to be redrawn, meaning other districts will also have to be change.
If new maps aren’t in place within a few days, the state’s primary election scheduled for March 15 could be held up and hundreds of absentee voters could have their ballots tossed out.
It is a time-honored tradition in the U.S. for the political party in power to draw up voting districts that give it the advantage. Both parties do it. But even that tradition can go too far, and GOP leaders in North Carolina went over the edge. Apparently the court ruling supports that assessment.
According to the UNC Demography Center, North Carolina has about 1.7 million active registered Republican voters and 2.1 million active registered Democratic voters. Many independents vote with the GOP, giving that party election wins in many tight districts. In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won North Carolina and in 2012 it was Republican Mitt Romney. To say we are a narrowly divided state is a simple truth.
Despite this reality, the state’s gerrymandered districts have allowed the GOP to hold 10 of 13 congressional seats and a substantial majority in the General Assembly.
Worse, perhaps, is how the gerrymandered districts disenfranchise millions of voters.
Again, according the UNC Demography Center, 2.4 million voters — 47 percent of active voters regardless of party— will have no choice in at least one of their upcoming legislative races. No one will run against the incumbent. Put another way, the districts maps are so gerrymandered that candidates from the minority party just don’t run because it is a waste of time and money. No competition is just bad for the democratic process.
This week public hearings were held across the state to gauge the mood of the electorate. According to the Charlotte Observer, a majority of speakers favored redrawing the maps and getting them right. In some states, the legislature has appointed independent commissions to manage this process and ensure that the final product is an accurate reflection of the political and demographic makeup of the state, something much easier to do with today’s technology than in the past.
That seems to be the wisest answer, but what we see in politics today hardly ever resembles anything close to wise. My bet is that state leaders will fumble the process once again, keeping federal judges busy cleaning up North Carolina’s mess.