Editorial: Help civic engagement, go nonpartisan

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 17, 2019

There’s seemingly no end to the number of times state legislators will be ordered to fix gerrymandered maps, and those trying to keep up with the identity and policy positions of their state or federal legislators are may need to start doing some more studying.

North Carolina’s district maps for state legislature and Congress look different now than they did at the start of the year, with the latest iteration of redistricting occurring Friday.

While a court must still approve new maps, legislators last week passed new district lines that would give Rowan County one member of the U.S. House instead of two. Contained entirely within the 13th District, represented by Republican Ted Budd, Rowan in the new proposal would drop Rep. Richard Hudson and the 8th District. That change comes as a result of a state court’s order that found the maps to be gerrymandered.

In September, the legislature to drew new district maps for the N.C. House and Senate because of another gerrymandered map. The state legislature maps keep the 33rd Senate District, currently represented by Sen. Carl Ford, unchanged. The House map is a different story. And it’s the second map Rowan voters will need to become acquainted with when candidates begin filing for offices on the ballot in 2020.

The new House map moves Rep. Harry Warren’s 76th district north within Rowan’s boundaries, lengthens Rep. Julia Howard’s 77th District to cover northern Kannapolis and Landis, pushes Concord Rep. Larry Pittman’s district out of the county and moves in Albemarle Rep. Wayne Sasser’s 67th district.

Seemingly an annual occurrence, the latest instances of legislative musical chairs only makes it more difficult, even for the most informed voters, to know who represents them. It’s a net negative for civic engagement.

Consider just the state legislature changes we’ve seen. Three years ago, Rowan County contained all or part of two House districts — 76 and 77 — and two senate districts — 25 and 34. Now, the county contains all or part of three House districts — 76, 77 and 83 — and one Senate district — 33. Barring another successful court challenge, we’ll trade one state House district for another in 2020.

Three different sets of district lines in three years.

Is your head spinning yet?

Meanwhile, the court challenges may not be done. It didn’t take long from the time the General Assembly approved a new map on Friday for Democrats to ask judges to throw out the new one.

If there’s any silver lining in Rowan to this year’s rounds of redistricting, it’s that engaged and informed voters will have some familiarity with incumbents in 2020 — particularly Warren, Ford and Budd, who will all have multiple years in office by Election Day in 2020. But there will be too many voters who will discover for the first time on Election Day they no longer live in the district they thought. People who were planning to run for office will need to reacquaint themselves with the districts they live in, too.

Political parties and get-out-the-vote efforts can provide some help with both items, but they won’t be able to reach everyone and there’s a better, more permanent solution to ensuring voters don’t have to learn new district lines every year.

Rather than complaining about losing in court or trotting out the same partisan talking points, the Republican-led General Assembly must create a nonpartisan or bipartisan commission to draw districts in advance of the 2020 Census. A day will come when Republicans don’t hold the majority in the legislature. Then, they will be the ones complaining about gerrymandering and filing lawsuits.

A commission won’t create a perfect solution, but it will produce bipartisan buy-in and that’s sorely missing in recent redistricting maps.