Kirk Kovach: Now is the time to right wrongs of gerrymandering
Once and for all, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to alter the way that legislative districts are drawn.
North Carolina and Maryland are in the spotlight this week over their heavily gerrymandered congressional districts, the former in favor of Republicans and the latter in favor of Democrats. Regardless of the party benefiting, the problem is severe and needs to be addressed.
Lawyers on both sides of the argument began presenting their case to the highest court, with justices probing the attorneys about how a uniform standard could be applied nationwide. Justice Brett Kavanaugh pointed to initiatives in other states that curb runaway legislatures, but North Carolina has no similar recourse. Our lawsuits run through the courts over and over, and the state does not allow for a citizen-driven ballot initiative. Simply put, North Carolinians have no recourse to correct for rampant gerrymandering in the state.
A January survey from Public Policy Polling, based in Raleigh, indicated that 59 percent of North Carolinians support redistricting in a nonpartisan fashion, and only 15 percent outright opposed it. Good luck finding something else that Tar Heels agree on so emphatically.
But good luck, also, finding a sympathetic ear from Republican leadership in Raleigh. Rep. David Lewis infamously said in 2016, “I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats, because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.”
Instead of a mea culpa over such an outlandish statement, Lewis and fellow Republican Ralph Hise actually penned an explainer in The Atlantic this week. In it, they doubled down, giving context to the statement but ultimately showing their hand; in lieu of a few hundred words, they could have briefly written “we did it because we could.”
In North Carolina congressional races last year, Republicans won 51 percent of the vote and Democrats captured 49 percent. Furthermore, an Associated Press analysis found that Republicans won two or three more seats more than they might have otherwise because of the way they drew districts. Nationwide, the GOP won about 16 seats more than would be expected with fairer districts.
Another popular argument — takes the culpability away from incumbent legislators and foists it onto the Founding Fathers. N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore was quoted recently in the News & Observer as saying, “I like the position that the legislature sits in of drawing those districts and being directly accountable to the voters.” He went on to say establishing an independent commission is “really taking that power away from the voters.” This is called projection. Moore is taking the actual, known tactics of his leadership team and suggesting that it would be the modus operandi of an independent commission if one were created. He takes the stance that it would be a bad thing and that it would disenfranchise the people of this state by stripping them of the power to choose who represents them.
Moore is not outlining a possible future; he’s describing the facts as they stand today.
The founders did not have complex computing devices or software that could divide people street by street, nor did they have millions of data points showing exactly where Democrats and Republicans lived and behaved. Gerrymandering will not subside without action, and its pernicious effects are growing rapidly and unchecked.
As technology continues to improve, so will the intricacies of maps that divide communities for partisan gain.
The Supreme Court has a weighty decision to make. Whatever they decide, the implications will be far-reaching. If the court chooses not to correct the wrongs in North Carolina, the practical effect will be to legitimize and vindicate the proponents of gerrymandering nationwide.
With the next census just a year away, now is the time for the Supreme Court to act and right this wrong before another decade of skewed maps are drawn and litigated.
Kirk Kovach is from Rowan County and contributes to politicsnc.com.