In case you haven’t noticed, North Carolina’s primary elections are less than two months away, on March 15.
With primary battles taking place in North Carolina for president (of course), U.S. Senate, governor and many other down-ballot races, this is an important time for voters.
But in 54 of this state’s 170 General Assembly districts, voters won’t have a choice — in the primary or November general elections — as to who will represent them. In those districts — 41 in the House and 13 in the Senate — only one candidate signed up to run.
More than 3 million North Carolinians live in those 41 House districts, and 2.5 million live in those 13 Senate districts. That’s a lot of people without choices in a state that just surpassed the 10 million mark for population.
Those disturbing numbers are the impetus for Common Cause North Carolina’s “The Forgotten 54” initiative. In the weeks leading up to the primary, the daily feature aims to highlight the dozens of state legislative districts where only one candidate is running. (See it at commoncausenc.org/54.)
Common Cause, part of a national network, is a Raleigh-based nonprofit group dedicated to encouraging citizen participation in democracy.
“By taking a daily look at each of these 54 districts that lack any competition at all, we hope to shine a light on the corrosive impact of gerrymandering and the vital need for an independent redistricting process,” said Bob Phillips, Common Cause North Carolina's executive director.
Redistricting is the process by which legislative boundaries are drawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census. Gerry-
mandering is the process by which those lines are drawn to benefit one political party’s candidates over the other’s candidates. Democrats did it in North Carolina. Republicans have continued that process, amid growing calls for a nonpartisan, independent redistricting process.
As I write this, the district highlighted by Common Cause is House District 29, which includes parts of Durham County and includes about 80,000 residents. The seat is held by Rep. Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat and House minority leader. He hasn’t been opposed in any election since 2008 and doesn’t have an opponent this year either.
According to Common Cause, and I would agree, the driving force behind this lack of competition in Hall’s district, and many of the other 53, is gerrymandering.
“Once again, gerrymandering is undermining our democracy and depriving millions of North Carolinians of having a choice and a voice in our elections,” Phillips said.
I’ve written about this issue before, and I will again. Hopefully, it’ll be when a bill is passed to ensure redistricting is accomplished through an independent commission, like other states have passed.
Maybe if we start screaming from the rooftops, hilltops and mountaintops across the state, the people who matter most — state legislators with the power to make it happen — will finally open their ears.
And if you vote in one of the districts where you don’t have a choice for General Assembly and don’t approve of the job your representative is doing, write someone in who you believe would do a better job.
Maybe that would tell your legislator that you don’t want to have your decisions at the ballot box made for you by the politicians who draw the districts.
Otherwise, someone call the Federal Trade Commission. Many seats in the House and Senate have become monopolies.
Patrick Gannon writes for Capitol Press Association.