Tangled power lines

September 27, 2012 

Ask candidates for the General Assembly whether they like the way North Carolina handles its once-a-decade chore of reconfiguring voting districts, and this much is guaranteed: Members of the party that’s out of power will hate it.

That’s because the process, the way it’s been carried out in recent cycles, is calculated to boost the majority party and make those poor devils across the aisle wish they’d never been born.

We exaggerate, but only slightly: The current boundaries for congressional and legislative districts are wildly favorable to Republicans, thanks to the GOP’s control of the state House and Senate. A decade ago, Democrats had the upper hand and also played to win. (A lot of good it did them in the pivotal election of 2010, when Republicans, as a prime trophy, captured the right to redraw district lines as they saw fit.)

The courts, applying constitutional principles of fairness, have the last word on redistricting plans, and this state’s district-shaping efforts invariably give rise to lawsuits. The current plans are no exception. It’s a dog-eat-dog ordeal that can’t help but make voters more cynical than many already are about politicians’ overriding urge for self-preservation.

The good news is that there seems to be at least some recognition within the parties that the system needs fixing. A survey by the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform of the current crop of candidates finds agreement that a new approach to redistricting is needed. That sentiment might not be as strong among Republicans, but it’s encouraging that a bill to move toward a nonpartisan process cleared the House last year.

Bizarrely shaped districts weaken the link between candidate (or officeholder) and constituent. The splitting of counties and precincts among districts breeds confusion and apathy. Neither party should have a license to game the system. Let’s hope this year’s collection of bug-splatter districts is North Carolina’s last.

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