GREENSBORO – Mayor Nancy Vaughan joined Greensboro residents on Monday in calling on state lawmakers to enact a nonpartisan system for redrawing North Carolina's congressional and legislative districts.
"For far too long, both parties have engaged in gerrymandering, which has divided our communities and deprived voters of a choice and a voice in our elections," Vaughan said. "It's time for the legislature to end gerrymandering and adopt a fair system for drawing our state's voting maps."
Rabbi Andy Koren of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro framed the issue of gerrymandering in moral terms.
"When we gerrymander, thereby suppressing the vote with the purpose of diluting the voice of others, especially minority voters, we destroy the integrity of an election system that is supposed to take the interest of the entire community into account," Koren said. "It is vital that we continue to push for an electoral system that values all North Carolinians."
Calder Preyer, a Greensboro business owner, said gerrymandering hurts the state's economy.
"Gerrymandering shields politicians from competition and accountability, which can lead to extreme legislation and uncertainty for North Carolina's business climate," Preyer said.
Alex Johnson, a student at NC A&T State University, explained the impact that gerrymandered voting maps have had on his campus, which the legislature split into two different congressional districts.
"Gerrymandering divides our campus, fracturing the voting power of our community," Johnson said. "How can we get students excited about voting when gerrymandering undermines the power of their vote?"
Bob Phillips, executive director of the good-government organization Common Cause NC, noted that members of Guilford County's state House delegation have voiced support for redistricting reform. Republican Reps. Jon Hardister and John Faircloth, along with Democratic Reps. Pricey Harrison, Cecil Brockman and Amos Quick, are among the 39 bipartisan co-sponsors of House Bill 200.
House Bill 200 would take redistricting power out of the hands of legislators and give it to an independent body, which in turn would draw districts free from partisan politics. While the measure has broad support in the NC House and among the public, legislative leaders have so far blocked the bill from getting a vote or even a hearing.
"We applaud these Guilford County lawmakers for setting aside party politics to support a fair redistricting process," Phillips said. "We hope legislative leaders will recognize that independent redistricting is supported by a bipartisan coalition of legislators and an overwhelming majority of North Carolina voters and that they will finally give House Bill 200 the vote it deserves."
Mayor Vaughan and the Greensboro residents made their comments standing in front of the Preyer Federal Courthouse, which will be the site of an upcoming trial in Common Cause v. Rucho, challenging the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina.
"When the courts have blocked the legislature's illegal racial gerrymandering in the past, legislative leaders have responded by publicly stating they would simply ignore race entirely and gerrymander purely along partisan lines. But the result was the same – divided communities and voters left without a voice in choosing their representatives," Phillips said. "That's why we have filed this lawsuit. We are hopeful that, like racial gerrymandering, the courts will rule that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional."
Under North Carolina's longstanding system, whichever party controls the legislature also controls redistricting. For decades, the result has been gerrymandered voting maps that heavily favor one party or the other and reduce competition on Election Day.
Since 1992, nearly half of all legislative races have had just one candidate on the ballot. That trend continued in last year's election as millions of North Carolinians were deprived of any choice in who would represent them in the legislature.
An overwhelming majority of North Carolina voters support independent redistricting, as shown by a Public Policy Polling survey in April. According to the poll's results, 80 percent of voters say it’s not fair for politicians to draw their own districts. That includes 85 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of independent voters.
Over 260 civic leaders from 130 towns and cities across North Carolina have signed a petition calling on the legislature to pass independent redistricting reform. And more than 100 North Carolina business owners have launched a coalition calling for an end to gerrymandering.