Fair Lines

In Buzz, September 2020 by Jane PorterLeave a Comment

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NC voters have their biggest chance ever this election to finally put an end to partisan and racial gerrymandering. 

This 2020 election cycle could spell the end for one of the worst political legacies that has persisted for decades in the Old North State: racial and partisan gerrymandering. 

But for redistricting reform to become a reality for the state’s legislative and congressional districts, which will be redrawn next year based on data collected in the 2020 Census, voters must elect candidates committed to ending the practice that allows lawmakers to select their voters instead of voters choosing their lawmakers.

“People who are seeking your vote should be willing to let you, the voter, know where they stand on [redistricting],” says Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, a nonpartisan nonprofit that works to create ethical and open government through ensuring fair political districts, expanding voting rights and election integrity, and reducing money’s influence in our elections. “How these lines are drawn is probably the most important issue to be decided in a decade.”

Although North Carolina isn’t the only state that has struggled, it is probably best known, nationally, for its problems with gerrymandering due to multiple lawsuits in the last decade seeking to redraw district lines based on racial and partisan imbalances. 

When Republicans swept the state legislature in 2010, lawmakers packed minorities into districts that favored a heavy Republican majority in Congress and gave the party a supermajority in the state legislature for four years of the last 10. Democrats benefitted from gerrymandering in the state for decades before, these lawmakers reasoned; now that they were in power, they felt like it was their turn.

The districts stifled electoral competition, minimized accountability and gave rise to laws like HB2, the 2016 so-called “bathroom bill” that opponents argued discriminated against transgender people. Gerrymandering also disenfranchised Black and Hispanic voters in a state where minorities make up about a third of the total population. 

Phillips says, unlike in 2010, it’s not clear to lawmakers this year which party has the best chance of holding power in 2021, so it’s in both parties’ interest to commit to bipartisan redistricting reform now. 

“I am hearing from people, from both sides, that there seems to be this growing cloud of uncertainty,” Phillips says. “So lawmakers hopefully feel that they need to get on board this train of reform, because if their party wins, at least there’s a system in the long run that serves everybody best. If their party loses, at least it protects the party from not being gerrymandered again into irrelevance.”

While Phillips says he doesn’t think there will be any movement on redistricting reform when the legislature reconvenes in Raleigh this month, he hopes that, next year, no matter who is in power, lawmakers will engage a neutral third party to draw fair maps for the next decade.

Voters who care about ending gerrymandering should ask state legislative candidates themselves if they support “meaningful redistricting reform, first and foremost,” Phillips says, before they go to vote this fall. 

“I am hopeful we are at a time, with racial justice, the call and the reckoning that’s going on, that people understand citizens’ voices do matter and they can force decision-makers to confront big issues,” Phillips says. “Everything is incremental but I feel more optimistic than I ever have that there is an opportunity for North Carolina to actually address this issue in a meaningful way.”

Learn more at commoncause.org/north-carolina/democracy-wire/ending-gerrymandering-in-north-carolina.

September 22 is National Voter Registration Day

If you’re planning to vote to end gerrymandering this election, you have to be registered first. National Voter Registration Day falls on the fourth Tuesday of every September; since 2012, more than 3 million people have been registered to vote on this nonpartisan civic holiday that celebrates democracy. 

In North Carolina, if you are a U.S. citizen of at least 18 years old, there are lots of different ways to register to vote. You can apply to register to vote online through the NC DMV website, you can fill out the North Carolina Voter Registration form at your local elections board office or send it through the mail, or you can register and vote on the same day at sites across the county during the early voting period from October 15–31 (bring your driver’s license or ID and proof of residence). You MUST register to vote BEFORE Election Day on November 3. For more information, check out Wake County’s Board of Elections website at wakegov.com/elections.

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