Gerrymandering Ruling Highlights Bigger Problem

Yesterday’s US Circuit Court decision invalidating two NC Congressional Districts is a modest step in the right direction, but much, much more remains to be done. The Federal court ruled that the boundaries drawn by the North Carolina General Assembly for the 1st and 12th US Congressional Districts following the 2010 census were racially gerrymandered and must be redrawn. Just a glance at the map is all it takes to see that the Republicans who drew the boundaries had something in mind other than clear, measurable criteria such as population equality, contiguity, unity of counties and cities, and compactness. Possibly the most surprising thing about the ruling is that the 4th, 9th, and 13th districts were not red-flagged as well.

Districts drawn to maximize partisan advantage and benefit incumbents have a corrosive effect on democracy, because many voters are effectively disenfranchised and have little incentive to participate. And because in a district drawn so that only one candidate has a chance to win, there is little accountability and diminished opportunity for public policy debate.

The problem runs much deeper than these two US Congressional districts. The design of the NC House and Senate district boundaries is so partisan-focused that in 54 of them—nearly one-third of the districts in North Carolina—only one of the three state-recognized parties could find candidates to run in 2016. It’s hard to persuade folks to devote time and effort to studying public policy issues, fund-raising, and campaigning when everyone knows from the start that no matter how smart and talented and committed they may be, the chance they will be elected is effectively 0%. And so in November, the voters in those 54 districts will have no alternative to the one name on their ballots…other than to stay home, which many of them will undoubtedly do.

And people are right to be frustrated. In 2014, Democratic US House candidates won 44% of all the votes cast for US House races…and came away with only three out of thirteen seats (23%). The lines are drawn so that only one or two districts are reasonably competitive. In 11 or 12 of our 13 districts, if you don’t belong to the dominant party, your vote effectively means nothing. In fact, even if you belong to the party whose candidate can’t lose, there is little point in voting! And that’s not all. Unreasonably partisan boundaries engender lawsuits from those whose interests are hurt. Taxpayer dollars are burned up defending against these suits, and more money is potentially at risk if ballots have to be reprinted or elections delayed or even re-run. And our leaders waste time and energy they should be devoting to the people’s interests scheming and bickering about what ought to be merely a straightforward math problem.

And it’s not just the Republicans and the 2010 census. Elections in North Carolina were delayed in 1998 and then again in 2002 due to court rulings against the 1990 and 2000 cycle redistricting which were put in place when Democrats controlled the General Assembly.

Indeed, over the last 30 years, both Democrats and Republicans have persistently demonstrated that they are not capable of performing redistricting in a way that serves the best interests of the citizens of North Carolina. This is why we need to do far more than tinker with two of the worst districts. We need to completely overhaul the dysfunctional redistricting process currently in use and replace it with something like the Iowa system.

There is a bill which has been introduced in the General Assembly—House Bill 92—modeled on the Iowa system. It would empower expert non-partisan legislative staff to develop maps for the North Carolina House and Senate, as well as U.S. House districts. They would aim for compact districts that respect existing governmental boundaries without taking into account any political or election data (including the addresses of incumbents). The NCGA would then have the option of approving the plan—with no changes allowed—or rejecting it, in which case the staff would create and submit another plan.

The Libertarian Party strongly supports enactment of House Bill 92. Eliminating partisanship from the redistricting process would go a long way towards strengthening democracy in North Carolina, and ensuring that government is more accountable and responsive to the will of the people.

So, what can you do to help if you agree? Well, the easiest thing would be to share this post via social media and/or e-mail to help spread the word. If you live in North Carolina, please check out the status of the bill ( ) and see if your representative is one of the co-sponsors. If not, ask her or him why not and urge reconsideration of this issue…if so, ask why the bill has apparently languished in committee with no action for a year and when we can expect some progress!

And if you don’t agree, please consider commenting to explain why not. In any event, thanks for taking the time to ponder this important issue. :-)

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