Group shows way to drawing voting districts without partisan considerations
Posted August 29, 2016
Durham, N.C. — A bipartisan panel of retired North Carolina judges on Monday unveiled a proposed congressional map for North Carolina to demonstrate how independent redistricting can work in the state.
The map is the culmination of a four-month-long redistricting simulation launched as a joint project between Duke University and good-government advocacy group Common Cause North Carolina.
The General Assembly is responsible for drawing North Carolina’s congressional and state legislative districts, but courts have thrown out both sets of maps in recent months, ruling that some of the districts were racially gerrymandered, with too many black voters crammed into them.
Lawmakers had to redraw the congressional districts, pushing the primaries for the 13 U.S. House seats from March to June. A panel of federal judges said three weeks ago, however, that November elections for state House and state Senate would have to proceed under the unconstitutional maps because there isn't enough time before then to redraw them.
"This is not a one party right, the other party wrong situation. This is a situation where both parties have had a chance to fix this problem, and neither, when they’ve been in power, have done so," said former University of North Carolina President Tom Ross, now the Terry Sanford Distinguished Fellow at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy. "We’re hopeful now that we can help the public understand and everyone understand that it is possible for the parties to come together and draw fair maps."
The panel of 10 judges, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, created 13 geographically compact U.S. House districts trying only to keep the population of each relatively equal and to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. They gave no consideration to political party registration or voting history.
The map would produce six likely Republican districts, four likely Democratic districts and three toss-up districts, compared with 10 likely Republican districts, three likely Democratic districts and no toss-up districts under the congressional map drawn by state lawmakers in February.
"Although we have different political backgrounds, we put that aside to draw districts in a fair and impartial way," said retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Henry Frye, a Democrat.
Having lawmakers draw voting maps produces consistently safe congressional districts, Ross said, in which elected representatives are less accountable to voters. The result is polarization, gridlock and "loss of belief in our democracy," he said.
Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who led the General Assembly's redistricting process, scoffed at the map the judges produced.
"It is difficult to take seriously this charade of 'nonpartisan' redistricting from a national liberal interest group suing to strike down a map that splits fewer counties and fewer precincts than any map in modern state history when Common Cause’s only problem is that it doesn’t elect enough Democrats," Rucho and Lewis said in a joint statement. "Notwithstanding that their media stunt violates the North Carolina Constitution’s delegation of redistricting to the people’s elected representatives and violates the requirement of ‘one person one vote,’ it is troubling that it was done with little transparency and far less public feedback from across the state than the open and transparent process conducted by the legislature."
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause, said there is increasing support for independent redistricting in North Carolina.
"We are seeing growing agreement among voters and political leaders from both sides of the political aisle that we need to take partisanship out of the way voting maps are drawn in North Carolina," Phillips said. "The work done by these former judges shows how a truly impartial redistricting process could be successfully adopted in North Carolina."
Common Cause recently sued over the new congressional map drawn by lawmakers, alleging that it is overtly partisan and again gerrymandered.