Editorial: End the partisan games, draw legal voting districts now

Posted June 7, 2017 5:00 a.m. EDT

State lawmakers look over maps of legislative voting districts during a 2011 joint House and Senate committee meeting.

A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, June 7, 2017; Editorial # 8170
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

It is time for the North Carolina General Assembly to face reality. They are being ordered to create new legislative and congressional districts.

For the third time this year the U.S. Supreme Court has taken North Carolina’s lawmakers to task, unanimously ruling they relied too heavily on race to illegally draw the state’s legislative districts. Simply put, the current districts are unconstitutional.

The court should give the state a deadline and provide specific criteria to be followed for drawing the new districts.

There are a few basic guidelines. They need to be:

  • Compact -- coinciding with the boundaries of political subdivisions of the state.
  • Contiguous -- districts joined only at the corners are NOT contiguous.
  • Follow state and federal law -- adhering to the Voting Rights Act and state constitutional mandates including avoiding splitting counties.
  • Ignore -- voter registration, voter turnout, results of past elections and residence of incumbents or challengers.

If the legislature will not follow the guidelines, the court should draw the districts itself. Additionally, the court could also ask for public input to help with the new districts.

The problem with North Carolina’s congressional and legislative representation isn’t merely partisan bellyaching—the results of recent elections are an affront to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees citizens equal rights under the law.

In the last election:

  • Republicans running for the state House captured 52 percent of the vote, yet won 62 percent of the seats.
  • GOP state Senate candidates won 55 percent of the vote, yet captured 70 percent of the seats.

Simply put, this racial gerrymandering helped Republicans gain at least 12 seats in the state House and seven in the Senate. That gave the GOP lawmakers veto-proof majorities to impose their will over the objections of the governor – currently Democrat Roy Cooper. (It should be noted that, by law, the governor DOES NOT have any veto role in congressional or legislative redistricting).

While these contorted, illegal districts should not be tolerated for another day, the chance of a special election later this year is highly unlikely. But now there is NO reason why we should delay any longer the drawing of legislative and congressional districts that will be in place for the March 2018 primaries.

And what about the new districts to be drawn after the 2020 census? The legislature can adopt a non-partisan redistricting system that would – once and for all – bring fairness to the process.

A bipartisan group of House members already has a good start with House Bill 200. House Speaker Tim Moore should release the bill, being held captive in the House Rules Committee, and allow the House Elections and Ethics Committee to act on it.

It is true that partisan games like gerrymandering can drag on and on, but when something is wrong at its core – no procrastination will make it right.

Now is the time to fix redistricting and give ALL North Carolinians a clear voice.

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