On a day the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a ruling that found racial gerrymandering in North Carolina state legislative districts, more than 100 gathered at the legislature calling for a nonpartisan redistricting process.
The high court sent the case involving state House and Senate districts back to a lower court for reconsideration of whether state lawmakers must redraw the maps and hold special elections in 2017 or later.
Common Cause North Carolina planned the “People’s Hearing” prior to the court’s ruling. Participants expressed support for House Bill 200, which would direct nonpartisan staff in the legislature to draw the voting maps for congressional and legislative elections. Senate Bill 209 is an identical bill in the Senate.
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Under the current process, the political party in power in the legislature draws the maps. As Democrats did when they controlled the legislature, Republicans have drawn districts for partisan advantage.
“Gerrymandering is a direct attack on my right to vote and it needs to end,” said Rick Wynne, a member of Common Cause NC and a Raleigh resident.
Five members of the state legislature, all Democrats – Reps. John Autry, Cynthia Ball and Joe John and Sens. Jay Chaudhuri and Jeff Jackson – were in attendance.
“This vicious weapon has divided our state,” Jackson said. “We are a 50-50 state and we can show the United States how to do that but first we have to end gerrymandering,” he said as the audience applauded and shouted affirmation.
More than 65 people spoke at the event.
“I lean mostly right and I’m sure I’m one of the few in here,” said Carl Gilmore, a senior at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia who is from Raleigh. “I know gerrymandering is wrong. Why keep the process the same if it doesn’t work?”
Reggie Weaver, a staffer at Common Cause NC, works with college students including those at North Carolina A&T. He said the campus was the only four-year university to be split between two congressional districts in a map that the courts have overturned.
“We are sending them the message that their vote doesn’t matter,” Weaver said.
David Harris of Durham, who successfully challenged the state’s congressional maps in federal court, noted that the courts have overturned the 2011 congressional and legislative maps as well as North Carolina’s law requiring voters to have photo ID.
Harris said passing HB 200 would be a “first step” even if the law had to be tweaked later.
“Hopefully, the House and Senate will start representing people rather than the money that put them in power,” Harris said.