To a large extent, lawmakers have been electing themselves in many states, including our own North Carolina. How have they managed this feat? After each census, the party in power manipulates the boundaries of the districts from which legislators are elected so that members of their party will be elected from as many districts as possible.
This kind of gerrymandering contributed to Democratic control of our General Assembly for decades and then, after the Republicans gained power in 2010, to a dramatic reversal. With their newly drawn districts, Republicans won nine of 13 congressional seats in 2012 even though most people voted for Democrats, and the Republicans triumphed in the General Assembly as well.
Not only does the current system render our democracy less truly representational, it makes for political polarization. With the typical district drawn to make victory highly likely for one party or the other in the general election, winning in the primary election becomes the crucial consideration. So candidates are inclined to run on platforms that appeal to their partys primary voters rather than to the general electorate, and once elected they are less inclined to compromise in the general interest if doing so would imperil their support in the next primary.
This polarization is exemplified at the federal levelby repeated deadlocks over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling.
We need not tolerate this disruptive abuse of the democratic process. In recent years bills that would limit gerrymandering have made considerable progress in the N.C. House but have failed to win final passage. The last such bill to gain widespread support, HB 606, would have given nonpartisan legislative staff considerable authority over the drawing of electoral districts, diminishing the role of the dominant party in the General Assembly. It would have prohibited the staff from drawing any district for the purpose of favoring a political party, incumbent legislator, or member of Congress or from considering political affiliations of registered voters.
The requirements would remain that districts be contiguous and approximately equal in population, avoid the division of counties to the extent consistent with other law and incorporate special treatment for minorities in some circumstances.
We elect our General Assembly. We have the power of our votes to persuade lawmakers to adopt such sorely needed reform. Other states have done just that years ago. Surely we North Carolinians are no less capable. Lets make our voices heard!
The writers are members of a bipartisan coalition at Carolina Meadows Retirement Community in Chapel Hill. James Abrahamson, Paul Hardin, Charles Kahn, Dietz Kessler, Richard Leach and Robert Merriam also endorsed this opinion.