Other voices: On redistricting, it’s a new game, same playbook

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Everybody wants to win.

And while our society often rewards those who fight hard to accomplish that goal, we’re less supportive when the winning involves cheating.

Unless it’s politics and it’s our side that’s stacking the deck. Then, magically, it’s OK.

But it shouldn’t be.

Members of North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature are drawing new maps for General Assembly and U.S. House districts — Tuesday was the final day for public comment — maps that will endure for the next 10 years, establishing the borders within which our representatives will be chosen.

North Carolina is gaining a 14th House seat this time around, thanks to population growth.

The Republicans involved in drawing the maps say they’re being fair — unlike a decade ago, when, despite a near-equal number of Republican and Democratic voters, they drew lines that created a 10-3 GOP advantage. A federal court had to step in because their sharply drawn maps illegally undermined Black voters, depriving them of their right to fair political representation.

The redrawn maps gave the Republicans an 8-5 advantage.

Same old song

This time around, they’ve pledged not to use race or partisan data as they draw the lines. But as Associated Press reporters Bryan Anderson and Nicholas Riccari pointed out in Monday’s News & Record, it’s a claim with little credibility. The veteran legislators who are drawing the maps already know where voters of different races and parties live — enough so that they’re attempting to split both Wake and Mecklenburg counties into at least three districts apiece, which would again dilute the power of Black voters. That’s no coincidence.

Of course they’re putting their thumbs on the scale. They wouldn’t be politicians if they weren’t. And they wouldn’t be modern-day Republicans if they weren’t seeking every advantage. This is the party that has responded to shifting demographics, which threaten to reduce their numbers significantly, not only by gerrymandering to an unprecedented degree, but also with ginned-up, phony claims of “voter fraud.” Those claims may not be accurate, but “they cheated” is more appealing to wounded egos than “we lost fair and square.”

Thirty years ago, Democrats, who were then in the majority, also gerrymandered districts in their favor — thus we wound up with the pretzel-like 12th Congressional District.

But Republicans’ efforts have been shameless, and have been assisted by modern-day technology that has allowed them to split their opponents’ power more precisely than ever before.

A better way

This needs to end here and now. This can’t be a matter of “They did it, so we can, too” — not when it’s North Carolina voters whose right to fair representation is undermined. Gerrymandering not only tilts the board in one party’s favor, but it helps keep bad legislators on both sides in office.

There is a better way. Some states, among them Colorado and Michigan, have enlisted independent redistricting commissions to draw their legislative maps, thus eliminating the more egregious partisan influence.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the legislature have supported independent redistricting — usually when the other side was in power. The N.C. House actually passed a bipartisan redistricting commission bill in 2019.

Unfortunately, the Republican-majority Senate wouldn’t touch it.

The federal For the People Act would require states to institute independent redistricting commissions, but that’s not likely to pass, either.

In the past we’ve urged legislators to lead from the middle, not dipping too extremely toward one side or another. That seems proper, rational and bearable in a “purple” state.

They’ve not always listened to that advice. Some have indulged too often in hot-button issues that generate a lot of heat without much light.

But it would be easier to do if the districts were as evenly divided as the voters.

The Republican-drawn maps are likely to wind up in court again, a process that will cost taxpayers more money and time and uncertainty. So it goes.

What we all need, what we all deserve, is a level playing field and an opportunity to choose our representatives fairly. Some good-government groups like Common Cause N.C., Democracy North Carolina and the League of Women Voters are working toward that goal. It’s an indictment of our system that they’ve needed to.

— Greensboro News & Record