Op-Ed

The Four Corners offense has returned. Now NC Republicans are using it.

UNC’s Phil Ford signaling for the Four Corners offense in the 1970s.
UNC’s Phil Ford signaling for the Four Corners offense in the 1970s.

UNC basketball coach Dean Smith called it the Four Corners: When the Tar Heels held the lead, he’d signal his point guard to spread the floor, play keep-away, and run out the clock. The NCAA pushed back by installing the shot clock and forcing competition.

N.C. Republicans have been running a Four Corners of their own when it comes to the state’s congressional maps. This week a panel of federal judges attempted to speed up the game and create a fair playing field.

When a federal court invalidated the state’s GOP-leaning congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander — once again — the judges also opened the door to an unusual remedy. The court suggested it might demand a new map for this fall’s elections, even though Election Day looms just 10 weeks away.

Frustrated judges needed an urgent solution to counter the Four Corners. After all, three elections have already been run on twisted maps repeatedly ruled out-of-bounds due to either unconstitutional racial or partisan gerrymandering.

It’s a necessary step if North Carolina wants a congressional delegation that reflects the state’s closely divided nature. Without this action, it would be easy for Republicans to exploit the slow-moving legal process, appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and likely maintain a 10-3 advantage in the U.S. House through 2020.

This bold move would also create challenges. Both parties have selected candidates. Nominees have spent months competing for votes. Would a new map require entirely new nominees from entirely new districts? Would the same candidates run in the new districts with the same numbers? The court suggested the general election could be turned into a “do-over” primary using new maps, with another election after that.

There is a better solution that would not require new primaries, or force a low-turnout, high-stakes special election amidst holiday distractions. North Carolina should adopt ranked choice voting for this November’s congressional elections.

RCV is easy to use and mimics a runoff election. Voters rank candidates in order of preference. If one candidate has a majority after the first round, he or she wins. If no one has more than 50 percent, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and those votes are instantly reallocated to the voters’ second choice. The “instant runoff” continues until someone crosses 50 percent.

RCV is common around the world and growing in popularity at home. Maine voters officially adopted RCV this spring for all federal offices and many primary elections. It’s used in city races in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Santa Fe, Portland, Me., and other municipalities. Columnists from the left and right have hailed RCV as the one reform most likely to make our elections more representative and politics less extreme.

Say two Republicans and three Democrats sought a congressional seat from a new district this fall. Voters could simply rank them one through five. Let everyone run: The instant-runoff procedure would winnow the field automatically, ensuring that the candidate with the widest support won — and that a crowded field didn’t create a plurality winner representing an extreme base of either side.

New maps present challenges, yes, but they’re worth solving if the result is a more representative delegation. RCV, meanwhile, makes the logistics as easy as 1, 2, 3. North Carolina has become infamous as the state where majority-rule, is deeply imperiled. Embrace this solution and North Carolina places itself on the leading edge of change.

David Daley, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, is the author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count” and a senior fellow at FairVote.
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