RALEIGH – A coalition of conservative and progressive organizations met at the state legislature on Wednesday’s opening day of the new legislative session to call on lawmakers to adopt a plan that would take partisan politics out of the way voting maps are drawn in North Carolina.
Redistricting could be a top issue in the legislature's session after a federal court ruled that dozens of North Carolina's legislative districts were racially gerrymandered and must be redrawn. The US Supreme Court may ultimately decide that case.
"For decades, North Carolina's redistricting process has been broken. Gerrymandering has led to costly lawsuits and delayed elections, while leaving voters of all political parties without a real voice in choosing their representatives," said Jane Pinsky, director of the nonpartisan NC Coalition for Lobbying & Government Reform, which organized the press conference. "This is a perfect opportunity for lawmakers to show their dedication to serving the people of North Carolina by adopting impartial redistricting."
The good-government coalition is urging lawmakers to enact a plan that would take redistricting authority out of the hands of partisan legislators and instead give that power to nonpartisan legislative staff. That independent staff would in turn be required to follow strict criteria when drawing congressional and legislative voting maps, such as keeping districts compact and following the federal Voting Rights Act.
A similar proposal was approved by the NC House with bipartisan support in 2011, but did not receive a vote in the NC Senate. It was re-introduced in 2013, and again 2015, then with a majority of House members co-sponsoring the measure, but the bill stalled in committee.
Pinsky said that with the latest court ruling ordering a new round of redistricting, the time may have arrived for reform.
"North Carolinians are tired of the endless controversy around redistricting and they are saying 'enough is enough.' It's time to finally end gerrymandering," Pinsky said.
Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation, said that independent redistricting would protect the right of voters to have a say in who represents them.
"Regardless of the outcome of the current legal disputes, North Carolina needs a new process for drawing its election maps," Kokai said. "Representative government is based on the key principle that voters must retain ultimate sovereignty. In other words, voters must choose their elected leaders, not the other way around."
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said independent redistricting would benefit both sides of the political aisle.
"The political pendulum never stands still. No party is guaranteed to be in power forever," Phillips said. "So it’s in everyone’s best interest for North Carolina to create a new redistricting process that provides fair representation for both parties."
Over 240 civic leaders across North Carolina have signed a petition calling on the legislature to pass independent redistricting reform. And a dozen towns and cities across the state have passed resolutions in support of independent redistricting. Over 100 North Carolina business leaders have launched a coalition calling for an end to gerrymandering. Gov. Roy Cooper is on record opposing gerrymandering, as are former governors Pat McCrory, Jim Martin and Jim Hunt.
The NC Coalition for Lobbying & Government Reform is a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting good-government policies that level the playing field for the citizens of North Carolina.