Editorial: Put fairness on the map

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, September 7, 2016

To be fair, should North Carolina mandate that Republicans be allowed to gerrymander legislative districts for a century before the system is finally reformed?

Hardly. But as North Carolinians talk about changing the way these districts are designed, Democrats have to own up to their history. Democratic legislators drew up North Carolina’s congressional districts to suit their own political purposes for decades upon decades, and barely a peep was heard about fixing the system.

What has changed, other than the party in power? Quite a bit, technologically speaking. Thanks to sophisticated computer programs, in 2011 Republicans drew maps to their own advantage in far greater detail than had ever been possible before. Republicans packed Democratic districts so solidly that in 2012 the state elected a congressional delegation of nine Republicans and four Democrats, even though 51 percent of the vote went to Democrats. That degree of disproportion undermines our system of government.

North Carolina needs to find a better, and an independent group has been at work on just that. With the state facing court challenges to its redistricting map, and another Census coming in 2020, Duke University and Common Cause North Carolina decided to show how redistricting might be done if partisanship were taken out of the equation. The organizations put eight retired judges and justices to work on a map. Their honors created 13 geographically compact congressional districts of equal populations, while complying with the federal Voting Rights Act. If the map were put in place, it would be Republican-dominant in six districts, likely Democratic in four, and political toss-ups in three.

The experimental map was unveiled last week, and there’s been no stampede of people throwing off their partisan advantage to embrace it. Concerned citizens should nevertheless press lawmakers to consider the independent approach. Don’t let this opportunity slide by. It’s time to get partisanship out of the redistricting process for both parties. That would be fair.