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(Source: Common Cause NC)

(Source: Common Cause NC)

Perhaps you haven’t been paying much attention yet to the upcoming election cycle, but here’s a fact that every voter who cares about the state of democracy in North Carolina should know.

In almost a third of North Carolina’s 170 legislative districts, only one candidate has filed to run for an open seat — meaning that there will be no competition in both the primary and general elections in those districts.

The reason?  Gerrymandering.

Here’s more from the folks at Common Cause North Carolina:

The driving force behind this lack of competition is gerrymandering, the longtime practice of partisan politicians drawing the state’s voting maps to heavily favor one party or the other. In turn, opposing candidates have little or no chance of winning in these districts — deterring many potential contenders from even bothering to run and leaving voters with no choice on their ballot.

Just one candidate filed for office in these 54 legislative districts, effectively deciding the outcome of these elections before a single ballot is cast. In all, almost a third of North Carolina’s 170 legislative seats will have no competition in both the primary and general elections.

Over 3 million North Carolinians reside in the 41 state House districts that lack any competition this year, and nearly 2.5 million live in the 13 state Senate districts where just one candidate is running.

In the 54 days leading up to the March 15 primary, the group is taking a daily look at each of the 54 NC General Assembly districts where just one candidate is running for office.

Here’s today’s focus, Mecklenburg County’s House District 99:

(Source: Common Cause NC)

(Source: Common Cause NC)

And here’s state Sen. Jeff Jackson on why this lack of competition is a dangerous thing for North Carolina voters:

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You can follow Common Cause as the group counts down the Forgotten 54 here  or on Twitter at @CommonCauseNC.

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Commentary

For a group of politicians so passionate about the “genius” of “free markets” and “competition,” North Carolina’s conservative leaders sure do whistle a different tune when it comes to elections. In case you missed it, the lead Sunday editorial in the Greensboro News & Record explains:

“It’s disappointing that 2016 will be another year of limited political competition in North Carolina. That’s intentional, and the design was just reaffirmed by the state Supreme Court.

While there are plenty of candidates running for governor, the U.S. Senate and some congressional seats, many legislative seats will be uncontested.

On ballots next November, 57 out of 120 state House races and 15 out of 50 state Senate contests will show just one candidate — barring the late entry of independent contenders via petition.

No wonder, when legislators drew their own districts. While they may favor competition in education or business, they fear competition in politics and do everything they can to avoid it.”

Unfortunately, as the editorial goes on to explain, North Carolina’s GOP-controlled Supreme Court recently upheld the scheme and its transparent packing of minority voters into a handful of districts:

“The North Carolina court majority found it permissible to use the 50 percent-plus standard for minority districts. It wasn’t concerned about the partisan motives of Republican legislators. Traditionally, redistricting has been an exercise meant to gain partisan advantage. Democrats did it when they were in power, and Republicans are even better at it.

The losers are voters who ought to have more choices and better government. The state should have an independent redistricting system. If such a system were proposed in a referendum, it would pass overwhelmingly, as it has in other states. But only the legislature can propose a constitutional amendment and referendum, and it’s under no political or legal pressure to allow fair competition.”

In other words, as is so often the case with the American Right, competition is a great thing — except when it interferes with the power and prerogatives of the mostly wealthy white men who dominate the American Right.

Commentary

[Bill Wilson, the Deputy Director of the North Carolina Justice Center and a veteran observer of state politics, recently examined at the candidate filings for the 2016 elections. As explained in the essay below, his findings once again document the need for electoral reform.]

BillWilsonAsk Santa for a better democracy
By Bill Wilson

With the holiday season in full swing, not a lot of North Carolinians are paying much attention to the recently concluded candidate filings for the North Carolina General Assembly. Sadly, they probably have other good reasons not to be too excited. A look at the results indicates that many candidates got an early holiday gift this year by being elected to the legislature a full 11 months prior to Election Day and without actually having to run.

Of the 50 districts in the state Senate, 13 people have been elected even before the early March primary – that’s 26 per cent of the entire Senate. After the primary, only 35 of the Senate’s districts will have an election in November.

Voters for seats in the state House suffer a similar fate. Of the 120 seats in the House, voters in 40 districts (one-third of all seats) will have no choice as to who will represent them in 2017, again even before the March primary. After the primary, candidates in 46 of the 120 seats will already be decided.

Overall, of the 170 seats in the NC legislature, 53, or almost a third, will be decided before any election takes place. After the March primary election, 61 seats will be determined before the November general election, and frankly, many if not most of these races are not really competitive.

While this is a sad statement for our democracy in North Carolina, voters shouldn’t be surprised since incumbency continues to offer a clear advantage — particularly with respect to fundraising and the gerrymandered districts that will provide voters with only a few competitive November contests.

Another sad fact is that it appears that less than 25% of all candidates who filed will be women.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. Four different  bills were introduced last year in both the state House and state Senate (some with bipartisan support) that would change the way the districts are drawn – taking power away from the legislators who have incentives for self-preservation and party control and giving it to an independent redistricting commission that would develop districts that the legislature could vote up or down, but could not change.

Some proposals would put this process into play after the 2020 census; another would put it off until 2030. One, House Bill 92, even has 63 House sponsors – enough to pass the bill on the House floor. Unfortunately, for legislative leaders, this is apparently too soon for their liking since none of these bills were considered in the 2015 long session.

A recent news report claimed that the redistricting process was “in for a big rewrite in 2020,” but unless the state moves toward drawing districts without regard to incumbency and party control, real change is unlikely. Instead, we’ll continue to see abysmal candidate filing statistics like the ones above — with those candidates who do file often beholden to far right and far left constituencies and that will continue the political polarization that exists in our General Assembly.

This year, let’s ask Santa for legislative districts in which  voters have real choices in who they want to represent them, and where the quality of candidates and their positions on issues will decide elections instead of districts designed to elect one particular party or the other.

Better yet – let’s ask the General Assembly to pass this legislation!

Happy holidays!

News

A three-judge panel presiding over the redistricting lawsuit in Greensboro has ruled that the case will move forward to trial in April while the 2016 elections cycle continues on schedule, with candidate filing opening on December 1 and primaries to take place in March.

The parties in Covington v. North Carolina — a lawsuit filed in May that challenges many of the same districts at issue in the state case pending once again in state Supreme Court (Dickson v. Rucho) —  appeared before  Fourth Circuit Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. and federal district court judges Thomas Schroeder and Catherine Eagles last Monday on requests for relief.

The parties contesting the voting maps had asked the court to stay all election proceedings in 25 challenged districts until a final decision on the merits of the case.

The state, on the other hand, had asked the court to put off all proceedings in the case while the state Supreme Court continued its review in the Dickson case.

The judges denied both requests.

As to the state’s request, the judges noted that generally federal courts have a duty to decide cases over which they have jurisdiction without regard to pending parallel state proceedings, and ruled that no facts had been established that warranted deviating from that rule.

And as to the redistricting challengers, the judges noted that although the plaintiffs may very well prevail on their claims at trial, courts do not take disrupting elections lightly. Here, plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of a few dozen districts, while the 2016 election cycle includes contests for 170 Senate and House seats.  And as plaintiffs conceded, “for all practical purposes, enjoining filing for the challenged districts would have the collateral effect of delaying the election cycle for all Senate and House seats and likely result in primaries in July 2016 at the earliest.”

Read the court’s full order here.