Commentary

It’s time to delay the March primary

gerrymanderingMoving the 2016 primary from its normal date in May to March was always a lousy idea — one that was motivated as much by the desire to protect incumbents and the state’s conservative legislature as it was to make a North Carolina a “player” in national presidential politics. Now, with Friday’s federal court ruling striking down the state’s congressional map as racially gerrymandered, the time has come for state leaders to admit their error and start over. Cancel the March primary. Redraw the maps fairly and reschedule the election for May — or even later. (Heck, the state legislative maps were outrageously gerrymandered as well). We’ve had a state primary in the summer before and things went just fine. Rushing now to barrel ahead with a primary in March (at least in the non-presidential races) would be a travesty.

And speaking of Friday’s ruling, be sure to check out the following statement from good government watchdog Bob Hall at Democracy North Carolina:

Don’t Blame Those Who Exposed Computerized Apartheid
Statement from Bob Hall, Democracy North Carolina, regarding ruling on Congressional district maps

We congratulate the team of attorneys and researchers at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who have skillfully challenged North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered political districts! The panel of federal judges agreed that NC legislative leaders used race as the “nonnegotiable criterion” for how the boundary lines were drawn for Congressional Districts 1 and 12. Black and white voters were carefully segregated on the assumption that black voters uniformly voted against the Republican mapmakers’ interests and therefore needed to be packed together and isolated to restrict their political influence.

Democracy North Carolina is a plaintiff in a related challenge that is working its way through the courts. We oppose the maps because they aggressively segregate voters and undermine the ability of voters to form multiracial “fusion” coalitions to advance a meaningful multiracial society. We are encouraged to see federal judges agree that the maps are the product of what amounts to computerized apartheid. ‘Elections should be decided through a contest of issues, not skillful mapmaking,’ wrote U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn. ‘Today, modern computer mapping allows for gerrymandering on steroids, as political mapmakers can easily identify individual registrations on a house-by-house basis, mapping their way to victory.’

There will be a lot of teeth gnashing and tongue lashing about the chaos this ruling creates, but two important points should not be overlooked. First, this ruling sends an important signal for the other court challenges to recent manipulations of election law in North Carolina. Here are federal judges ruling that General Assembly leaders purposefully used racial bias in deciding election procedures! Second, as for the election underway, the ruling only affects the primary for NC’s 13 US House seats, i.e., the process for deciding each party’s nominees for the general election. The other primary elections could proceed, unless a court quickly blocks them. North Carolina has had redistricting decisions cause parties to pick nominees in the summer before, or even decide to pick them through a caucus or convention method rather than popular ballot.

We deserve fair districts before the general election is held. Don’t let backers of the racially gerrymandered districts get away with blaming the messengers who spoke the Truth and finally got some judges to pay attention. The mapmakers should have known better at the beginning of their power-grabbing exercise, paused to be a little less greedy, and saved us all from the turmoil caused by their excessively partisan manipulation of election laws. Maybe they believe dividing voters by race serves their interests, but it actually undermines everyone’s faith in fair elections.”

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