Archived Opinion

Disgraceful redistricting commonplace in N.C.

Disgraceful redistricting commonplace in N.C.

By Gary St. Arnauld • Guest Columnist | North Carolina’s General Assembly has a long and not so honorable history of creating legislative maps that have been consistently struck down by federal and N.C. courts. This year, maps for N.C. congressional districts, state Senate districts and state House districts were drawn again as they are every 10 years due to U.S. Census data, or when the courts order new maps. Indeed, N.C. has drawn more litigation over this issue than any other state over the past 10 years.

One would think that the Republican legislators who control the map making process would have been embarrassed by their past behavior and the millions of taxpayer dollars they have spent defending their work only to have the courts declare that their maps are illegal. One would think — if they didn’t already know that the Republicans in the General Assembly are either very slow learners and/or they just don’t care about fairness. Or as is said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

After months of work and public hearings, the General Assembly passed maps for Congress, state Senate and state House. The maps passed along strictly party lines — not one Republican voted against the maps and not one Democrat voted for the maps. And Gov. Cooper cannot veto these maps because only N.J. and N.C. do not allow the governor to veto redistricting maps. How convenient! As one of the commenters said during the recent redistricting hearing at Western Carolina University, “Let’s call this what it is. Political corruption, pure and simple.” And that was before the maps were drawn.

The only way to challenge these maps is through the courts. Already, the NAACP, Common Cause and several voters have filed suits, challenging the legality of the maps. And noted Democratic election attorney Marc Elias and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder are filing suits. Elias won lawsuits challenging prior N.C. redistricting plans in both federal and local courts. Following the passing of the 2021 maps, he said that “N.C. Republicans are persistent and shameless,” and he intends to beat them again.

Why are these suits needed? N.C. is as close to being a 50/50 (Democratic/Republican) state as any state in the country. In the 2020 elections, Democratic congressional candidates received more than 50% of the votes while winning only three of 13 N.C. congressional seats. The maps which just passed don’t even pretend to be fair, giving Republicans a 10-4 or an 11-3 advantage in the 2022 Congressional races. The maps for state Senate and state House are just as skewed, giving Republicans a likely veto-proof majority in the General Assembly again following the 2022 election. And the new maps clearly make our Black, Latino and Native American representatives underdogs for reelection. How convenient!

Many election experts have weighed in on our new maps. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project evaluates election maps across the country and has given the N.C. General Assembly an “F” for their maps. They simulated a million possible maps for N.C. and only the outliers showed anything close to the maps which we ended up with. Our General Assembly really had to work hard to come up with maps as unfair as these. 

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North Carolina will be adding another congressperson due to our population growth over the past decade. Here in WNC, we have been in District 11. In 2022 we will be in District 14, which will include Watauga County (Boone) and move three counties — McDowell, Rutherford and Polk — to District 13. President Biden carried Watauga County in 2020. However, Virginia Fox has been the congressperson from that area since 2004. So, I’ll bet you think that Ms. Fox will have to run for reelection in the 2022 primary against our own Madison Cawthorn. Well, of course, you’d be wrong because our General Assembly carved out Ms. Fox’s home precinct in Watauga County and placed it in the new District 11. Watauga County is the only county in the state where a teeny, tiny slice was moved to favor an incumbent congressperson. Again, how convenient! 

This makes Madison Cawthorn’s race more competitive. So, what has he done? He jumped ship and will now run in the newly created District 13 as he feels he has a better chance of winning there than in our district. So, before he has completed even half of his first term, he is writing off most of the present District 11 and focusing his time on running in his new district. To paraphrase the old Irish Ballad “Maddie, we hardly knew ye.” But we’re used to that. After all, former Congressman Mark Meadows left District 11 without representation for 10 months when he left his job to become White House Chief of Staff. 

So, where do we go from here? Well, it’s up to the courts. At least two possibilities: 

We will have to run the 2022 elections with these new maps because there is not enough time to redraw them before the end of the candidate filing period of December 6-17 and our March 8 primary election. If new maps are mandated by the courts, those maps will be drawn after the 2022 election.

The court(s) will order N.C. to move the candidate filing period and the March primary to allow time for new maps to be drawn. The N.C. primary elections have often been in May, so that is a possible solution. But this would have to happen very fast.

It’s hard to believe that this is where we have landed. This type of thing is going on in many states controlled by both Democrats and Republicans. It is a major reason that we can’t have competitive elections, and look what we end up with. With all the talk about secure elections, this is the situation which should be getting the most attention. When we allow partisan hacks to make all the rules, this is what we get. Is it any wonder why so many people have lost interest in politics and why our political bodies have such low approval ratings? Our democracy is at stake if we don’t get this fixed soon.

Gary St. Arnauld lives in Franklin. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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