RALEIGH – A special congressional election brought about by the legislature's unconstitutional gerrymandering of voting maps will cost North Carolina taxpayers millions of dollars and likely result in low voter turnout next week.
That was the message at a press conference organized by the nonpartisan Common Cause North Carolina inside the state legislature on Wednesday. The good-government group highlighted the estimated $9.5 million price tag for the June 7 special congressional election that is the direct result of state lawmakers' gerrymandering.
In February, a panel of federal judges found that legislators had unlawfully gerrymandered North Carolina's congressional voting maps along racial lines and ordered them to be redrawn, leading to a delayed primary vote and in some cases dramatic changes to the state's congressional districts.
"Clearly, we must fully fund our elections. But this special election is only necessary because the legislature engaged in unconstitutional racial gerrymandering – and the taxpayers of North Carolina are left holding the bill," said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC. "We urge lawmakers to move beyond gerrymandering and instead adopt an independent redistricting process that would spare our state from the expensive lawsuits and delayed elections that plague partisan map-drawing."
As Phillips pointed out, the $9.5 million cost of the special election brought about by the legislature's gerrymandering could otherwise be used for such worthwhile projects as hiring some 270 new teachers, 280 state troopers or 300 park rangers. Alternatively, the $9.5 million could pay for more than 300,000 new textbooks for North Carolina students.
Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst for the nonpartisan John Locke Foundation, said that both parties have been guilty of gerrymandering when they've held the reins of power in the legislature, resulting in a cycle of costly court battles.
“The last time Democrats drew partisan election maps for North Carolina in 2001, legal challenges took up time and generated expenses for state taxpayers for most of the next decade – culminating in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that forced lawmakers to redraw election lines as late as 2009,” Kokai said. “Now, half a decade after Republicans had their first chance to draw partisan election maps in 2011, legal challenges are taking up time and generating expenses for state taxpayers again. It’s a pattern that’s likely to be repeated – decade after decade – as long as the process of drawing election maps remains in the hands of legislators seeking partisan advantage."
Jane Pinsky, director of the nonpartisan NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, said that support for independent redistricting is growing among North Carolina voters and political leaders that are fed up with partisan gerrymandering.
She noted that House Bill 92, introduced last year with a bipartisan majority of NC House members as co-sponsors, would take redistricting power out of the hands of lawmakers and give it to nonpartisan legislative staff. That measure is modeled after a redistricting system used successfully by Iowa for over 30 years.
"For three decades, Iowa has used its impartial redistricting process without controversy or litigation. Meanwhile, North Carolina has had to endure dozens of costly lawsuits and several delayed elections because of gerrymandering," Pinsky said. "Partisan gerrymandering is a bad habit that North Carolina needs to break. The voters of our state deserve a redistricting process that is free from political manipulation."
A majority of North Carolina voters support moving to an independent redistricting process, according to a February survey by Public Policy Polling. And in the past year, over 240 locally elected officials from 128 town and cities across the state have signed a petition urging the legislature to enact redistricting reform. Both Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper have spoken out against gerrymandering, as have former governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin.
More information on the effort to enact independent redistricting reform in North Carolina can be found at EndGerrymanderingNow.org.