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When your vote doesn’t matter

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says the House “shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States…”

This doesn’t really happen much today. These days, the people are doing precious little choosing.

Take Charlotte, for example. In November, much of the city won’t be able to choose a congressman. Robert Pittenger has already won, running in such a safe Republican district that no Democrat challenged him. The 12th congressional district, meanwhile, is drawn in such a way that Republican Vince Coakley has little chance against Democrat Alma Adams regardless of the candidates’ qualifications.

Truly choosing state legislators is at least as rare. Voters in Democrat Jeff Jackson’s district will have no choice in that state Senate race. Neither will voters in Republican Bob Rucho’s district. Nor those represented by Democrats Rodney Moore, Tricia Cotham, Beverly Earle, Becky Carney and Kelly Alexander; or Republicans Bill Brawley and Jacqueline Schaffer. None of them faces opposition in their safe districts. Many others face only token opposition.

Gerrymandering by the politicians themselves has already determined which party wins most congressional and legislative seats. Just 44 of 435 House seats are truly competitive, according to the Cook Political Report, and fewer than 20 of 170 N.C. legislative seats are considered to be.

How is this acceptable to anyone, Republican, Democrat or independent?

Any politician who defends this system clearly does so for one reason: to protect his own job and his own party’s position in power. In addition to stripping voters of any voice, it’s a big reason Congress and state legislatures are so polarized – representatives know they can safely dismiss the concerns of the other party.

N.C. Republicans drew the current districts in 2011, which helped them to comfortable majorities in 2012. Democrats did the same thing for decades.

The Republican-controlled House, led by Speaker Thom Tillis voted in 2011 to change the way district maps are drawn. Professional staffers would draw the plans and the legislature could vote them up or down. The measure died in the Senate.

Last week, former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, a Republican, and former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, a Democrat, launched another push. They expect to have the support of former Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, and former Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican.

But they’ll run into a wall in the Senate. There, Sens. Tom Apodaca and Bob Rucho offer this pearl for why not to change: Democrats did it too!

Vinroot understands, but remembers Republicans clamoring for this exact change when they were out of power.

“Now that we’re in charge, we’re uncomfortable giving up authority,” Vinroot told the Observer editorial board Friday. “That’s as natural as breathing but it’s still wrong. … We are Republicans. We ought to do the right thing.”

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