North Carolina’s redistricting process continues to be disappointing – quite simply, the process has failed to meet the test of openness and transparency in our democracy. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that North Carolina’s district maps were unconstitutional on the grounds that race was considered in drawing the maps. In response, the N.C. General Assembly recently released its new redistricting map for state House and Senate districts. Public hearings were held two days later with statistical information selectively provided a day before the hearing.
Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, the state made limited modifications to the 12th and the 1st Congressional districts, maintaining the state’s 10-3 Republican congressional delegation majority. The new maps have been challenged as extreme partisan gerrymanders and a trial is expected later this year.
What’s clear now is that state lawmakers are using redistricting to deny North Carolinians their full right to vote. The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, and redistricting is an essential requirement to that right to vote and to have that vote fully valued.
Redistricting is required to ensure fair and equal representation. This process is used to establish or change the geographic boundaries from which representatives are elected, and based on the court’s decision and the subsequent process, redistricting should be developed by an independent commission.
Moreover, given the sacredness of the ballot box to uphold our democratic values, redistricting should be fair, transparent, and not dictated by partisan politics. The current elected officials shouldn’t choose their voters. Instead, the voters should choose their elected representatives.
The 15th and 19th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution gave minorities and women like me the right to vote. The Constitution is sacrosanct to our democracy, and these two amendments state that neither the federal nor state government can deny this basic American right to any citizen.
Yet, elected officials here in North Carolina and around the country continue to perpetuate policies to challenge this fundamental right – whether it be through the redistricting process or requiring arbitrary rules to make it more difficult for citizens to exercise this right. These policies include voter ID laws, last-minute changes to polling locations and restricting early voting times and locations. The most democratic answer to voting is to make it simpler for citizens to participate.
Now, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court, North Carolina has redrawn the state’s House and Senate districts to the same failings as in the Congressional districts, racially drawing the districts for political purpose. At some point, it will be determined whether this map meets the test of equal representation or if it’s just a polished plan of “gerrymandering” and cracking and packing for political reasons.
The N.C. General Assembly’s process of drawing these district lines is shameful and is a slap in the face to our democracy. The process was embarrassingly flawed, a sham for public engagement, simply using the public hearings as window dressing without data to demonstrate that the new lines met the constitutional requirements. Not only does the final map matter to our democracy, but the process is equally as important. Confidence in government and our political process is essential to our democracy, as is a willingness to listen and include the governed. President Abraham Lincoln was right – our government is a government of the people, by the people and for people.
I am hopeful that the courts will see the flaws in both the process and the data of these new maps. But before the court rules, I believe the General Assembly should commission an independent body to redraw our maps to ensure a fair and open process that gives the voters the final say in their representation.
Eva M. Clayton represented the 1st Congressional District from 1992 to 2002.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the status of the revised congressional district maps. They are still being reviewed by the federal courts.