State Politics

Another call for independent redistricting

Senators Dan Soucek, left, and Brent Jackson, right, review historical maps during The Senate Redistricting Committee for the 2016 Extra Session in the Legislative Office Building at the N.C. General Assembly on Tuesday, February 16, 2016.
Senators Dan Soucek, left, and Brent Jackson, right, review historical maps during The Senate Redistricting Committee for the 2016 Extra Session in the Legislative Office Building at the N.C. General Assembly on Tuesday, February 16, 2016. clowenst@newsobserver.com

A coalition of organizations called again on Wednesday for an independent redistricting process aimed at removing politics from the drawing of legislative and congressional maps in North Carolina.

While the effort has failed several times in the past, advocates say the uncertainty surrounding the latest legal complication might lead to more bipartisan support.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted a lower court’s order that the state redraw what it called racially gerrymandered maps and hold new elections in them. For now, that leaves unresolved the question of whether new maps and new elections will be required. A special election would mean some legislators would serve one-year instead of two-year terms.

Previous efforts at independent redistricting have failed because there is little incentive for the political party in power to risk giving up their seats, organizers said.

In 2015, a bill to end gerrymandered districts passed the House but was killed in the Senate.

At a news conference in the legislative building held by more than a dozen organizations, Jane Pinsky of the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying & Government Reform said the multiple lawsuits that have stemmed from redistricting have cost the state millions and that districts drawn to favor a single party have limited the number of candidates voters can choose among.

But the process was bad and should be replaced by something better.

Mitch Kokai, John Locke Foundation

Mitch Kokai of the John Locke Foundation was among the members of the coalition. He said the current litigation has nothing to do with the long-term goal of independent redistricting, contending that the maps the legislature drew are legal.

“But the process was bad and should be replaced by something better,” Kokai said.

Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County who was a key figure in drawing the disputed maps, said after the news conference that it’s naive or disingenuous to say the process can be nonpartisan.

“I maintain that partisanship is a part of what each and every one of us are,” Lewis said. “So we can claim that we do not intend to exercise partisanship, but I think it’s more honest to say that partisanship is a part of who we are and will always be a part — not the sole, not the defining — requirement of redistricting or most everything else we do.”

I maintain that partisanship is a part of what each and every one of us are.

Rep. David Lewis

Advocates base their proposal on the process in place in Iowa. The idea is to create a nonpartisan legislative staff to draw the district maps in private without any contact with legislators, establish a citizens’ advisory commission to hold public hearings, and submit the results to the General Assembly, which could amend the plan only on technical grounds.

The proposal sets out a timeline that would give the legislature until mid-April to vote, with extended deadlines to approve a plan if it is rejected on technical grounds.

Additional groups represented at the news conference were Common Cause N.C., N.C. Women United, the Morrisville Town Council, the League of Women Voters, the N.C. Justice Center, the AFL-CIO, the Women’s Forum of N.C., the AARP, and Planned Parenthood Votes South Atlantic.

  Comments