Needed: Reform Of Redistricting
Try reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable facts: - According to the nonpartisan group Public Policy Polling Inc., the North Carolina General Assembly enjoys an approval rating of 16 percent. This mean that only about one in every six North Carolina voters will go to the polls on Nov. 6 feeling good about the performance of the N.C. House and Senate.
- At the same time, the vast majority of the incumbent state senators and representatives now holding seats in those august bodies can probably expect to be returned to office. And when the legislature convenes in January, the current leadership will probably remain intact.
What's wrong with this picture? A big part of the answer can probably be explained in a catchphrase that is not original with us but which we like too much not to repeat here: These days, instead of the voters choosing their legislators, it's now more a matter of the legislators choosing their voters.
They accomplish this primarily through a sophisticated redistricting process that gives new, high-tech meaning to the word "gerrymandering."
After every federal census, rather than drawing up a collection of nice, compact Senate and House districts that make at least a little bit of geographic sense, the legislative leaders instead create a ragged crazy-quilt of tortured-looking zones that twist and intertwine grotesquely, crossing county lines and even splintering individual precincts.
The Democrats did that, to one degree or another, during all those decades when they ruled the roosts. But the Republicans, who gained the majority a couple of years ago, seem to have taken the thing to new heights - or depths.
The idea, working through consulting firms with sophisticated computer programs, is to carve out "safe" districts for the dominant party, while packing as many voters from the other party as possible into as few opposing districts. In some cases, two or more incumbent officeholders from the other party are squeezed into the same new district, assuring that one of them will go away.
Needed: Independent Commission
The effect of all this artificial manipulation is, of course, to maximize the chances that the dominant party will grow even more dominant - and better able to consolidate its control even more.
It has been 10 years since the N.C. Supreme Court set forth a series of guidelines regarding what constitutes fair redistricting, as opposed to a stacking of the deck. The court will decide next year if the legislature's latest set of maps meets those standards. If the answer is no, we might find ourselves in some kind of constitutional crisis.
This whole process, which seems antiquated and futuristic at the same time, is unfair and inefficient not to mention downright undemocratic. There's a rational solution - an idea that has been bouncing around for many years but has never gotten anywhere: After each census, turn the job of drawing up new districts over to an independent, nonpartisan commission.
Such a body would work for the good of the people of the state instead of a particular party. The Republicans in Raleigh agitated for such a commission when they were out of power, but no more.
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