Editorial: Voters must hold legislators accountable on redistricting
Posted August 4
CBC Editorial: Friday, Aug. 4, 2017; Editorial # 8194
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
When the General Assembly’s redistricting committees meet today there’s a sense of urgency and purpose they haven’t been accustomed to. There is a federal court order. There are judges shining a spotlight on their work that will be examined and dissected in minute detail.
Legislative leaders have given little assurance that they intend to create fair and balanced or even lawful legislative districts. The committees’ leaders will cry crocodile tears, complaining that overbearing judges have imposed a tight deadline that will allow only limited public participation.
House and Senate Redistricting Chairmen Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett and Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, already are blaming the judges, who frankly have been far too tolerant of legislative procrastination and secrecy.
“While we had originally planned to set aside additional time to receive comments from North Carolinians and hold a statewide public hearing on criteria across the state, we have said all along that we will comply with the federal court’s order. Moving forward with this process over the next week will help us comply with the court’s deadline,” Lewis and Hise said in an announcement late Wednesday afternoon.
Please! The court order is no excuse to limit or diminish public participation. This is 2017, not 1817. It is an automobile parking lot under the Legislative Building, not stables. Those are computers and smartphones on the desks, not parchment, inkwells and quills.
Plug in a set of criteria and computers can spit out detailed redistricting plans in minutes. This is politics, not rocket science.
But, it is important business. Legislators shouldn’t be thinking of their convenience, but rather take seriously their obligation to engage the public.
They should go the extra mile, put in the extra hours and make sure there’s a transparent process to create fair districts. Lewis has said there would be hearings around the state but wouldn’t provide details. Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, posted a Tweet Thursday saying there would be simultaneous hearings at six locations on Aug, 22 with a vote on the maps a couple of days later. There should be a sincere opportunity for citizen input, not merely a perfunctory display to pretend to satisfy the court.
The demands and deadlines handed down by the federal judges aren’t an invitation to cut corners. They should be embraced as guidelines for engagement and transparency.
The judges ordered the legislature to pass a redistricting plan by Friday, Sept. 1. There’s few who doubt the legislative leadership already has Senate and House redistricting plans set to go. Democracy North Carolina, the non-partisan voters advocates, have said as much and demanded the maps be revealed so the public can offer reactions.
North Carolina Common Cause, which has pressed legislators to adopt an impartial, nonpartisan redistricting process, has provided the legislative committees with House and Senate redistricting maps, developed as part of an exercise with Campbell University law students, put together using strict nonpartisan criteria.
In a letter to members of the redistricting committees, Common Cause urged them to “adopt a nonpartisan process, including the exclusion of voter registration data, past election results and incumbents’ addresses and assigning redistricting responsibility to an independent body.”
We encourage other groups, regardless of their partisan or political alignments, to come up with, and submit to the legislature, plans that embrace a nonpartisan approach.
Those plans should have districts that are: Compact, to coincide with the boundaries of cities and towns and avoid splitting counties; Contiguous and not merely joined at the corners; Follow state and federal laws, adhere to the Voting Rights Act and state constitutional mandates; and Ignore voter registration, voter turnout and results of past elections and residence of incumbents or challengers.
If the court is compelled to impose redistricting maps – which will quite likely be the case, it will have ready examples to work from.
While legislators don’t appear willing to go out of their way to fully engage with their constituents, that doesn’t mean citizens should let them get away with it.
Show up at the meetings and go online to offer concerns about the process and proposed districting plans. Let legislators and the court know voters want a fair plan and won’t settle for anything less.