Editorial: Independent redistricting committee is right thing to do

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 31, 2021

Lawmakers already face a suit in state court, and they haven’t even finished redistricting. After a tumultuous decade for congressional and legislative map making, the suit raises the specter that the coming decade may bring more of the same.

In North Carolina, the N.C. General Assembly is required after the decennial U.S. Census to draw districts from which state representatives and senators are elected. It also draws maps for U.S. House members elected in N.C. The General Assembly took up its redistricting pens more than usual in the 2010s because courts found the state’s districts to be racial and partisan gerrymanders. The 12th Congressional District was one of the worst offenders, snaking from Charlotte, through Rowan County and to the Triad along I-85.

Now, state legislators are in the thick of redistricting caused by the 2020 Census. Because of the state’s growing population, North Carolina gets 14 congressional districts this time instead of 13.

But the Southern Coalition for Social Justice is seeking to block draft districts with a suit brought on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP, Common Cause and individual voters. The group last week said legislators failed to consider race during the initial map-making process “in ways that could have devastating impacts on the representation of Black North Carolinians in violation of established state and federal law.”

If a judge finds the suit’s claims have merit, it could delay 2022’s elections or condense the time between when voters find out which district they’re in and when it’s time to cast a ballot. Both are on the verge of becoming normal for North Carolinians.

If state legislators ever hope to avoid lawsuits, they must start by creating a nonpartisan or bipartisan commission to handle map-making instead of allowing the party in power to handle the job. It’s hard to imagine the party in power would ever support a bill to do as much, but it’s the right thing to do.

Rep. Harry Warren offered a reasonable solution in 2019. He proposed creating an 11-member commission, with majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate having an opportunity to appoint two members. Those eight members would appoint the remaining three. A core group evenly split by party offered some protection against creating a smaller version of the state legislature, where the majority party can control the outcome.

By ignoring calls to create an independent commission, Republican legislative leaders are accepting the likelihood lawsuits will come. Maybe they’ll prevail. Maybe not. But they’ll eventually be back in the minority and complaining about legislator-drawn maps just as their opponents are now.