Commentary

Editorial: Panel of judges maps the way to nonpartisan redistricting

The lead editorial in this morning’s Fayetteville Observer has some on-the-money praise for the recent efforts of a panel of retired judges (working with the nonprofit watchdog, Common Cause) to bring forth a nonpartisan congressional redistricting map for North Carolina. Here’s the conclusion:

“Encouraged by years of court decisions affirming that it’s OK to draw voting districts with political advantage in mind, the legislators who oversee redistricting have created electoral maps that guarantee their party’s dominance, even when the balance doesn’t reflect the political preferences of the voters. The bizarrely shaped districts created with only politics in mind often divide cities and counties, making it difficult to represent – or even find – a common body of interest.

The General Assembly’s latest adventures in redistricting, though, finally hit a roadblock in the federal courts. Gerrymandering for political advantage may be OK, but not when it’s race-based. The courts declared some of the maps unconstitutional.

It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, and politicians on both sides of the aisle know that. To show that there’s a better way, the nonprofit Common Cause collaborated with the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Ten retired judges from both parties, some of them former chief justices of the N.C. Supreme Court, were asked to create a new congressional map.

They did it. Easily. And the map makes sense. The districts group regions that have common interests. Six favor Republicans, four favor Democrats and three are toss-ups. The boundaries mostly coincide with city and county lines. And the districts complied with the Voting Rights Act.

Naturally, the state lawmakers who oversaw the real redistricting called it a “media stunt.” Of course it was – a public demonstration that there’s a better way to get the job done. Republicans know that. So do Democrats. And their constituents are increasingly angry as they wait for them to give us what we deserve: a nonpartisan legislative redistricting commission.”

The Observer editorial is just the latest of many, of course, to offer praise for the idea of nonpartisan maps. Unfortunately, as Chris Fitzsimon pointed out last week, the reactions of conservative lawmakers like Senator Bob Rucho and Rep. David Lewis to the proposal were downright ridiculous.

“Senator Bob Rucho and Rep. David Lewis, the chairs of the committees that drew the 2011 gerrymandered maps, issued a joint statement calling the bipartisan process to develop the model maps a charade and accused Common Cause of wanting to elect more Democrats.

Lewis and Rucho also bizarrely said it was a media stunt that violated the state constitution’s delegation of the responsibility for redistricting to the General Assembly.

The partisan charge makes no sense. The panel that came up with the model districts was evenly split between Democratic and Republican judges who did not take politics into account when putting the maps together.

The goal wasn’t to elect more Democrats. The goal was to draw a better and fairer map.  As to the bizarre charge that the process somehow violated the state constitution, it was simply an exercise to show what independently drawn maps would look like.”

As Chris goes on to point out, both Rucho and Lewis know the truth here.

Let’s hope that between Rucho’s departure from the legislature (he is retiring this year) and Lewis having some time to mull over the issue (and the fact that he used to be a sponsor of nonpartisan redistricting legislation) there is a change of heart on Jones Street in 2017. Happily, the momentum for change is definitely growing.

One Comment


  1. Tallywag

    September 14, 2016 at 7:06 am

    The only way to avoid gerrymandered districts is a proportional system like what they have in Switzerland, Finland and Greece where 2% of the votes earns a party 2% of the seats available. I don’t believe for a minute that we will ever have districts that do not favor one party over another and I sort of question whether or not those who are calling for “non-partisan” districts are just looking for a way to draw new “non-partisan districts” that favor their own party.

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