Asheville mayor and residents call on state lawmakers to pass fair redistricting

Mayor Esther Manheimer and Asheville residents on Thursday gathered in Pack Square to send a message to state lawmakers in Raleigh: enact a fair way of drawing North Carolina’s voting maps.

Organized by the good-government group Common Cause NC, citizens and local leaders at the event voiced support for House Bill 200, which seeks to end gerrymandering by establishing a nonpartisan redistricting process.

“Asheville has been uniquely impacted by gerrymandering over the past decade,” Manheimer said. “From the decision in 2011 to split Asheville into two different congressional districts, which puts downtown Asheville in the same district as the suburbs of Charlotte, to recent attempts by the General Assembly to dictate what our own city council districts should look like. It’s time to end gerrymandering once and for all in North Carolina.”

Under North Carolina’s longstanding system, whichever party controls the legislature also controls redistricting. For decades, the result has been gerrymandered voting maps that artificially 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 left without any choice in who would represent them in the legislature.

“Gerrymandering deprives North Carolinians of a choice and a voice in our elections,” said Brent Laurenz with Common Cause NC. “The citizens of Asheville, and all North Carolinians, deserve a fair redistricting process that puts voters ahead of party politics.”

House Bill 200 would end gerrymandering by taking redistricting power away from partisan legislators and instead give it to nonpartisan legislative staff. That independent staff would be required to follow strict, nonpartisan guidelines when drawing voting districts, without any input from legislators.

The proposal has 39 bipartisan co-sponsors in the NC House, including all members of Buncombe County’s House delegation, and is led by four Republican lawmakers – a clear sign of the measure’s unusually broad bipartisan support among members of the legislature.

An overwhelming majority of North Carolina voters also support independent redistricting, as shown by a Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by Democracy North Carolina last month. 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.

But even with that broad support among lawmakers and the public, House Bill 200 has not yet been given a vote, or even a hearing, in the NC House Rules Committee.

“The dozens of legislators supporting House Bill 200, and the millions of North Carolina citizens who want fair redistricting, deserve to see the measure get a fair vote,” Laurenz said.