Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide North Carolina's gerrymandering case, Rucho v. Common Cause, and ordered further review by the lower court. This outcome followed earlier deferrals on redistricting cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland. Along with Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, these decisions tell us that we are a long way from clear judicial determinations on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering and we should not count on the courts to fix the problem.
This uncertainty and ambiguity created by the Court's failure to offer clear guidance on gerrymandering, however, does not mean the process of drawing legislative and congressional elections districts must remain a partisan tool that many feel is severely damaging our democracy. There is one clear path for reform before the 2020 redistricting cycle: The General Assembly of North Carolina could act. For this to happen, North Carolinians must demand a new process that is fair to voters of both parties and those who are not affiliated with either party. And it will require a bipartisan effort.
Politicians creating districts to protect themselves and their party undermines our democracy. Picking and choosing their voters for partisan advantage has been a practice of both parties designed to ensure the party in power can stay in power. The problem is the practice of drawing “safe” districts systematically dilutes the power of your vote. It pushes candidates on both sides of the aisle to the extremes of their respective parties. They become more ideological in their views and are less likely to work across the aisle for common sense solutions to the many problems we face. Further, a representative elected in a district that virtually guarantees his or her reelection has no incentive to be truly accountable to all the voters. He or she need only stay true to those in his or her party whose votes really matter in the safe district.
One solution is for the General Assembly to put a state Constitutional amendment on the ballot that requires a non-partisan process for drawing election districts, an amendment that prohibits the use of voter registration information or voting history data and spells out clear, non-partisan standards for redistricting in North Carolina.
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Redistricting reform would benefit all North Carolinians. Elections that are now often effectively decided ahead of time by the politicians picking their voters would again become competitive. Candidates would need to appeal for the vote of every person, not just those to the extreme of their party. Gridlock would ease and problems could be solved. And, most fundamentally, North Carolinians would know that their vote truly matters.
Leaders of both parties are already on record calling for reform. Republican state Rep. Chuck McGrady has introduced legislation, HB 200, to reform redistricting with a large bipartisan contingent of co-sponsors. Gov. Roy Cooper is adamant that the redistricting process must be reformed no matter which party is in control. Former governors from both parties along with many other prominent members of both parties are strongly supportive of change.
North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform (www.ncredistrict.org) is a bipartisan, non-profit organization of business, legal and political leaders across the state who agree that elections districts should be drawn through a non-partisan process.
Because putting a state Constitutional amendment on the ballot requires 60 percent of both chambers of the General Assembly, there must be bipartisan support. This means North Carolinians of all political views must come together to demand a new, non-partisan process for drawing elections districts.
It is time to get involved. Together we can make things better. The people of North Carolina can do what the highest court in the land has not done. We can end the practice of drawing elections districts for partisan power purposes. Please urge the General Assembly to put a state Constitutional amendment on the ballot that allows the voters to decide if they prefer a non-partisan process for drawing election maps and once again make your voice heard in our democracy.