North Carolina has election fatigue, and we’re not talking about the just-concluded 2019 campaign cycle. The almost 10-year battle over the legitimacy of this state’s legislative and congressional districts is still making headlines. And it’s showing no sign of let-up, even as we open the 2020 campaign in less than a month.
A three-judge panel has been hearing lawsuits related to the state and congressional districts, and it was busy last week. On the same day, it issued two rulings. First, the judges said newly redrawn district maps for North Carolina’s House and Senate meet their test for fairness, and candidates can use those when filing opens Dec. 2.
Then, in a separate decision, the judges ruled that congressional districts drawn in 2016 (to replace unconstitutionally gerrymandered ones from 2011) were still unfair to voters and ordered new maps for 2020. The judges — two Democrats and one Republican, all from different parts of the state — said the congressional maps show signs of “extreme partisan gerrymandering.”
Partisanship Gone Astray
You can whine all you want about activist judges, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that partisanship has gone too far. Voters no longer pick their representatives; representatives pick their voters.
We thought perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court would offer clarity last summer when it was asked to rule on political gerrymandering cases in North Carolina and Maryland. But all the justices said in their ruling was that federal courts have no role in determining partisan gerrymandering. That, the Court found, should be left to state courts, and that’s exactly what happened last week.
Confused? We all are. What’s clear through it all, though, is that Republicans went too far with partisanship when they assumed control in 2010 and began crafting new districts following the 2010 U.S. Census.
Lawsuit after lawsuit has now found that the state’s districts for the General Assembly and Congress were drawn to disadvantage certain voters, make districts less competitive and give Republicans as strong an advantage as possible. And lawmakers did all this in a state that is more “purple” than it is red or blue.
Now we all face the possibility that, failing quick action by the General Assembly, filing for 2020 congressional races — and the March primaries — will be postponed. The General Assembly must redraw the districts, and the three-judge panel must accept the work.
What’s Fair is FAIR
Maybe lawmakers are up to the task again. Indeed, the judges praised their recent efforts to re-craft legislative districts, saying the work “was conducted in full public view” and adhered to rules the judges set out.
Or perhaps it’s time finally to bring meaningful reform to the redistricting process. We prefer House Bill 140, or what’s called the FAIR Act. This legislation would put a constitutional amendment before voters regarding the issue.
Districts would be drawn without partisan data. The process would be transparent, respectful of local boundaries and not favor incumbents over challengers. If the amendment is approved, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Office would draw districts, with public input, and lawmakers would ultimately approve them.
“The foundations of the FAIR Act’s proposed process and the court-ordered redraw are essentially the same, and, as we’ve seen through analysis, and the Court’s decision, these foundations prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering,” said Mary Wills Bode, executive director at North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform.
Now is the time for redistricting reform. We do not need another 10 years of litigation.