In NC, end the cycle of gerrymandering

Make no mistake. Republicans who took charge of drawing legislative and congressional district lines after the 2010 census didn’t invent the game of sketching the districts to give them a partisan advantage in electing legislators and members of Congress of their party.

Yes, the Democrats who ran the show in North Carolina did that for decades.

That’s what happens when lawmakers are put in charge of drawing districts. They want to stay in power. So after a census, they get out the maps and commence to get creative with district lines, even if it means districts look more like ink blots.

Now at issue, and regrettably upheld by the N.C. Supreme Court, are the legislative and district maps drawn by Republicans in 2011. Those fighting the maps, including the NAACP, say with good cause that the maps packed African-Americans into certain districts to weaken their influence in others. Black voters tend to be Democratic voters.

Advocates claimed they had to draw the districts the way they did to ensure minority representation under the federal Voting Rights Act. Opponents of the maps are understandably skeptical that a Republican Party under the control of its right wing has much sympathy for the representation of minorities in terms of their voting clout.

Now the issue may move to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The confrontation could be avoided if North Carolina followed the lead of Ohio, where Republicans in control participated in putting together a plan to have a bipartisan process for drawing voting districts. The move is intended, The New York Times reports, to make races more competitive. That’s healthier for legislatures and Congress, and it makes elected representatives more attentive to their constituents rather than the extreme wings of their parties. As things stand, even when there are 435 U.S. House seats up for grabs every two years, only a few are really competitive.

Ohio’s plan prohibits maps drawn to favor one party. It may force legislators and members of Congress toward a more reasonable middle. Minority members of a board that draws maps would be allowed to object to them, and if they did so, the maps would be in effect for only four years, not the 10 between censuses. That’s obviously an incentive for the party in the majority to be fair with the minority.

Bob Phillips of Common Cause North Carolina condemns the way districts are drawn here as harshly partisan and notes there have been “nearly three dozen lawsuits” over districts since 1980. He rightly advocates that partisanship must be eliminated from the process in order to have maps that would be “fair and impartial.”

Republicans in Ohio are in control now, but one reason they’re favoring reform is that they know eventually the political pendulum will swing away from them. Fair redistricting will ensure they’re not cut out of the decision-making process even if they’re out of power. Would that North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers would follow that lead.