The time for redistricting reform in NC has arrived

The U.S. Supreme Court punted on partisan gerrymandering cases from North Carolina, Wisconsin and Maryland.
The U.S. Supreme Court punted on partisan gerrymandering cases from North Carolina, Wisconsin and Maryland. Washington Post

The United States Supreme Court has declined to decide North Carolina’s gerrymandering case, Rucho v. Common Cause, and ordered further review by the lower court. This outcome followed deferrals on redistricting cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland. Along with Justice Kennedy’s retirement, these decisions tell us that we are a long way from clear judicial determinations on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering and we should not count on the courts to fix the problem.

This uncertainty created by the failure of the Supreme Court to offer clear guidance on gerrymandering, however, does not mean the process of drawing legislative and congressional elections districts must remain a partisan tool that many feel is damaging our democracy. There is one clear path for reform before the 2020 redistricting cycle. The General Assembly could act. For this to happen, North Carolinians must demand a new process that is fair to voters of both parties and those who are not affiliated with either party. And it will require a bipartisan effort.

Politicians creating districts to protect themselves and their party undermines our democracy. The practice of drawing “safe” districts systematically dilutes the power of your vote. It pushes candidates on both sides of the aisle to the extremes of their respective parties. They become more ideological in their views and are less likely to work across the aisle for common-sense solutions to the many problems we face.

Furthermore, representatives elected in districts which virtually guarantee their re-election have no incentive to truly be accountable to all voters. They need only stay true to those in their party whose votes really matter in the safe district.

One solution is for the General Assembly to vote to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that requires a non-partisan process for drawing election districts, an amendment that prohibits the use of voter registration information or voting history data and spells out clear, non-partisan standards for redistricting in North Carolina. Passing such a constitutional amendment could end redistricting for partisan reasons and lay the foundation for fair, competitive elections.

Redistricting reform would benefit all North Carolinians regardless of their politics. Elections that are now often effectively decided ahead of time by the politicians picking their voters would again become competitive. Candidates would need to appeal for the vote of every person, not just those to the extremes of their party. And, most fundamentally, North Carolinians would know that their vote truly matters.

Leaders of both parties are already on record calling for reform. Republican state representative Chuck McGrady has introduced legislation, HB 200, to reform redistricting with a large bipartisan contingent of co-sponsors. Gov. Roy Cooper is adamant that the redistricting process must be reformed no matter which party is in control. Former governors from both parties along with many other prominent members of both parties are strongly supportive of change.

Efforts are underway to encourage the people of North Carolina and the General Assembly to act. I am the co-chair of one such effort, North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform, a bipartisan, nonprofit organization of business, legal and political leaders across the state who agree that drawing election districts should be accomplished through a nonpartisan process.

Because putting a state constitutional amendment on the ballot requires 60 percent of both chambers of the General Assembly, there must be bipartisan support. This means North Carolinians of all political views who want a democracy that works, who care about elections that are fair and competitive and who are tired of partisan bickering and gridlock, must come together to demand a new, nonpartisan process for drawing elections districts.

Together we can make things better. The people of North Carolina can do what the highest court in the land has not done. We can end the use of drawing elections districts for partisan purposes. Please urge the General Assembly to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that allows the voters to decide if they prefer a nonpartisan process for drawing election maps and once again make your voice heard in our democracy.

Thomas W. Ross is the Co-Chair of North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform, the President of the Volcker Alliance and President Emeritus of the University of North Carolina.