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Kirk Kovach: Gerrymandering only encourages division

By Kirk Kovach

Last week, the U. S. Supreme Court made its ruling in Rucho v. Common Cause, the case involving both the gerrymanders in North Carolina and in Maryland.

The pairing of both our states was not incidental; North Carolina is demonstrative of a Republican gerrymander, and Maryland is a Democratic one. Though often a flippant remark, in this case we truly have an example where “both sides” are at fault.

In its landmark decision, the court found that the question itself was not justiciable. The federal courts, they said, do not have a role to play in the inherently political process of gerrymandering. For the architects of the incongruous districts, it was a win; for the citizens within these unfair districts, it was a loss.

Although Chief Justice John Roberts nodded to the unfortunate nature of gerrymandering, he saw no role for the third branch to affect the process. And as an aside, Roberts is often considered to be interested in the appearance of the court as a nonpartisan entity above all else; to make the Supreme Court the final arbiter of every challenged district would no doubt increase the politicization of the courts, but, to be fair, it seems they already are.

Ultimately, the Court insists, we, the voters, are responsible for getting ourselves out of this mess. Never mind that the districts as they stand are basically impenetrable for the minority party. At a certain point, a race is unwinnable no matter the candidate. The districts are drawn in a way that ensures the letter after a name is more important than the name itself.

If you’re a Republican in North Carolina, or a Democrat in Maryland, the decision may come as a cause for celebration. Entrenched majorities allow one party to have their way with an entire state, even when their support barely exceeds half of the voting population. It sows political dysfunction because it removes any incentives to cooperate with, or even listen to, the other side.

Even if you’re comfortable having a reliably red or blue district, there should at least be some concern about the person holding the seat. To whom are they accountable? It certainly isn’t to the voter, since an entrenched incumbent wins somewhere close to 99% of the time. That raises the issue of unaccountable, and sometimes controversial, candidates.

A district gerrymandered to support guaranteed, one-party dominance encourages poor candidates. For the most part, a moderate won’t run in those districts because they have a vulnerability. Moderates in deep red or deep blue districts only fear a challenge from their own side of the aisle. That is to say, in a Republican district, the only direction for the representative to go is further right.

For someone who prefers an extreme candidate, gerrymandering may be OK. But I think that is an issue which makes our government less representative of the people it governs. While all voices should have some role in the public discourse, most people fall somewhere in the middle.

Deeply unfair districts will only continue to encourage division and brinksmanship — two things we should seek to diminish and on Independence Day more than ever.

Kirk Kovach is from Rowan County and writes for politicsnc.com.

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