Residents pack committee room to talk about frustrations over gerrymandering in North Carolina

Residents lined up Monday evening to talk about their concerns with gerrymandering in North Carolina. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

A Legislative Office Building committee room that is usually packed with lawmakers was packed with more than 150 state residents Monday evening as they gathered to air their frustrations over gerrymandering.

The event, hosted by Common Cause North Carolina, came hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 28 House and Senate districts in the state were racially gerrymandered.

Groups of residents from Murphy to Manteo lined up to speak about their experiences with gerrymandering and to call for legislators to move House Bill 200 from committee and get legislation passed to reform redistricting.

There were five lawmakers on a panel at the event: Rep. John Autry (D-Mecklenburg), Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg), Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake), Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) and Rep. Cynthia Ball (D-Wake).

Here is what some of those legislators had to say about being there:

Jackson: “Imagine how broken your redistricting process has to be to pack 250 people in a conference room on a Monday afternoon just to talk about it.  We’re there.

People finally see that gerrymandering is the rope around our ankle. This is what is holding our state back. It’s not a deficit of good arguments or good people — it’s an overtly corrupt process of rigging all the elections. 

This is the rare political issue where there is literally no one arguing the other side. Everyone who knows this issue is incensed.  It’s like how the only people in favor of bank robbery are the ones getting a cut. The rest of us are pretty strongly opposed.”

Chaudhuri: “My colleagues and I were inspired to see over 100 people from different communities across the state all come to Raleigh and speak out. It was important for me to support the event because the General Assembly’s leadership won’t allow a real hearing on independent redistricting. Given the wide bipartisan support, I think we are missing a big opportunity to help restore faith and confidence in government across a broad spectrum. There may not have been any legislators from the other side in the room, but those who spoke out were definitely heard.”

John: “The large crowd, representing all areas of the state, was a testament to the critical importance of the gerrymandering issue to North Carolina. To bring our state government back to the middle representing the majority of NC citizens and not the extremes of the right or left, we absolutely must have a truly independent, impartial, non-partisan Redistricting Commission.”

And rather than trying to sum up what residents who took the time to speak at the event said, here are some excerpts straight from them:

Pamela Weaver Best, Cary: “Whether it’s gerrymandering, voter intimidation, threatening election officials or reducing the hours to vote or trying to change voting cards; it is wrong, and we need to have fair and impartial elections, and that’s why I’m out here to support that.”

David Clark, Lexington: “The Supreme Court has not put North Carolina on the stage again, where they now have a chance to show that they can make a difference in how this state is run. This is a great opportunity for our legislators and our citizens because not only can they show the rest of the United States for a change that North Carolina is prepared to do something positive and honest; they can also go home and look their children in the eye and say, ‘we support a fair game.’”

Betty Shotton, Black Mountain: “When I was a kid growing up, and I was in trouble and tried to hide it or get out of it, I would go to my mother and say, ‘well, mom, everybody else did it.’ Like my parents and like most of your parents and like the parents of most of the politicians that we have here in North Carolina, we all learn from our parents that just because somebody else did it, whether it’s the Democrats or anything, if something that’s done is wrong; it’s wrong, and it doesn’t make it right.”

Wendell Williamson, Anson County: “I think this is the worst thing that could possibly be done to you other than taking your life away from you, is taking your vote away from you. I think the right to vote should be listed along with the pursuit of happiness and all the other unalienable rights. We have the right to vote; we have the right to be counted in the election and be counted equally. It’s time for this to stop.”

Justin Lockamy, Clinton: “If somehow [House Speaker] Tim Moore and [Senate President Pro Tem] Phil Berger were watching through one of these cameras right now and listening to me, I would try to make this argument to them, three points: One, is that by continuing to support a system that the choir here knows is just indefensible, you delegitimize every possible law that you would pass. This is Barry Bonds and the records books of the baseball with an asterisk beside it. Furthermore, you limit yourself in trying to craft good legislation. You fail to listen to more moderate people in your own party, and you fail to compromise with other people from the opposing party, so what happens is you have to have a court affirm basically every piece of legislation you would pass. And that’s third, a waste of taxpayer money, and as conservatives, I would hope they’d be interested in saving taxpayer money. It can go to the rainy day fund.”

Peter van Dorsten, Raleigh: “Our legislature appears to be addicted to gerrymandering going a long way back. This latest round used an even more potent version of an age-old process and the results have not been good for the state. The genius of our system of governments is based largely on checks and balances, the ones the framers established. Cracking neighborhoods and cramming voters into partisan archipelagos defeats this fundamental principle: that we want sound government that balances the extremes, governs from the center, and provides fair, efficient and effective policies for all of our great state. We must end the addiction of gerrymandering.”

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