N.C. Republicans don’t like the idea of using an outside expert to draw new legislative districts for our state. Federal judges, who say the current map relies too heavily on race, intend to assign that job to Stanford University law school professor Nathan Persily. An attorney for the GOP objected Monday in a court filing, according to the Associated Press.
Republicans don’t necessarily have a problem with Persily’s credentials, which are many, or his map-drawing chops, which are considerable. They worry about what GOP lawyer Phil Strach called “possible bias.”
They’re right about that, but maybe not for the reason they think.
We looked at more than a dozen op-eds, interviews and projects that Persily has participated in during the last decade. He’s commented on court decisions involving North Carolina cases – as Strach notes in his filing – but Persily’s analysis of those cases wasn’t particularly controversial or partisan. Still, Republicans should be worried about the maps that Persily might draw – not because he’s biased against the GOP, but because he’s biased against voters being disenfrachised.
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He has characterized gerrymandering as “partisan greed” – which happens to be true, regardless of which party is engaging in it.
He has frowned at the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision in Citizens United because of the power it gave to the few – Democrat or Republican – who have a lot of money.
He has argued against a Texas effort to draw districts based on eligible voters instead of total population, because it would dilute the voting power of a growing Latino population.
So what has Persily advocated for? As senior research director for the 2014 Presidential Commission on Election Administration, he helped craft recommendations that included expanding early voting and online registration. In a subsequent op-ed for the Washington Post, he recommended developing a nationwide data infrastructure that might address issues such as long polling lines and the failure to count provisional and absentee ballots.
All of which has a theme: People should have better access to voting, and the votes they make should not be weakened by political or legal maneuvering.
But Persily shouldn’t be judged only by his words. He should be judged by the hundreds of districts he has participated in drawing, both as an academic and as a court-appointed “special master” in other states.
Those maps have not packed minorities into districts that serve to secure legislative majorities for conservative whites. The districts are largely compact with natural geographic boundaries. They give voters the voice they deserve.
But fair is not what N.C. Republicans are interested in. And to be fair, it’s not what N.C. Democrats were interested in when they held majorities in the General Assembly.
But fair is what would benefit North Carolinians most when the next legislative maps are drawn. Persily may be our best chance to get there.