Raleigh, N.C. — In the past six months, federal courts have thrown out voting maps state lawmakers have drawn for seats in the U.S. House and the General Assembly, as well as those for the Wake County school board and Board of Commissioners, saying they violated constitutional principles.
Voting rights advocates said Friday that they hope the string of rebukes from judges will finally persuade lawmakers to hand redistricting duties over to an independent panel to take partisan politics out of the process.
"We don’t think lawmakers should be drawing their own districts," said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, which last week sued over the congressional map lawmakers adopted in February after the map drawn five years ago was invalidated.
"It just adds to the confusion that the public has," Phillips said. "I think it also has the impact of decreasing the confidence and faith that the public has in elected officials, and that’s not positive or healthy for anyone."
On Thursday, a panel of three federal judges ruled that Republican lawmakers crammed too many black voters in 28 of the 170 legislative districts as a way to make many other districts more GOP-friendly. But the judges said there isn't enough time to approve new districts, so voters will head to the polls in November electing legislators in the unconstitutional districts.
"Right now, we’re getting heavily skewed conservative, heavily skewed liberal, super-liberal, super-conservative districts that are polarized," said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina. "Our representatives are not talking well. ... It doesn’t help us. It doesn’t help me as a voter get what I really want."
"Ultimately, you want to be in a district where you feel like there’s an opportunity to really have a chance to elect someone that matches or shares your values," Phillips said. "That’s why voters should care, because it’s almost denying them a voice and a choice in election, (which) goes against what democracy is supposed to be about."
Thursday's ruling called on lawmakers to redraw the maps next year, but Phillips and Hall said they hope there will be enough momentum there to do things differently.
"They’re going to have a choice: whether they do the same thing again or behave better," Hall said. "I think the judges are telling them, 'Stop. Rethink what you’re doing. Let’s have a new process.'"
The judges left open the possibility that they could call for special legislative elections next year once the new districts are approved. But an off-year primary and general election would likely cost the state millions of dollars, and Hall said he isn't sure it would be worth the cost.
"It is a fact that we are going to be voting in November in districts that are illegal. ... So, the representatives are not our true representatives," he said. "It would be nice to have spokespeople, representatives, who are legitimate. The ones who are going to the General Assembly from these districts are really not going to be legitimate."