At gerrymandering trial in Greensboro, coalition calls for reform

On a day when state lawmakers took the stand inside a federal courtroom to defend gerrymandered voting maps, members of the nonpartisan NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform gathered outside that courthouse in Greensboro to make the case for independent redistricting reform.

Jane Pinsky, director of the coalition, noted that this week’s federal trial is just the latest in a series of court cases swirling around North Carolina’s voting maps, with more than 30 judicial interventions occurring over the past three decades because of partisan gerrymandering.

“North Carolina has been through more than its share of lawsuits, postponed elections, special sessions of the NC General Assembly, and ongoing confusion,” Pinsky said. “We need a new, impartial process that puts voters in charge of redistricting and now is the time to do that.”

The coalition is urging the General Assembly to adopt a nonpartisan process in time for the next round of redistricting in 2021. A bipartisan majority of NC House members have co-sponsored a proposal – House Bill 92 – that would take redistricting authority away from partisan lawmakers and give it to nonpartisan legislative staff.

“That bipartisan bill could be taken up during the upcoming legislative session, but only if citizens across this state contact their representatives and demand action,” 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.”

Rev. Earl Johnson, a board member with Common Cause NC, said that partisan gerrymandering undermines the ability of North Carolinians to fully exercise their right to vote.

“Partisan politics shouldn’t be part of the redistricting process, because it creates gerrymandered districts that are non-competitive and marginalizes the voice of all voters, especially African-Americans,” Johnson said. “We need a redistricting system that instills confidence among all citizens that our representative democracy is fair and truly reflective of North Carolina.”

This week’s trial considering challenges to the state’s legislative districts comes just two months after another panel of federal judges ruled that two of North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts had been racially gerrymandered and ordered them to be redrawn. That decision necessitated delaying the state’s congressional primary until the summer.

Polls have consistently shown bipartisan support for independent redistricting among a strong majority of North Carolina voters. At the same time, over 240 local elected officials from 128 towns and cities across North Carolina have signed a petition calling on the legislature to enact independent redistricting. And both Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper have spoken out against gerrymandering, as have former governors Jim Martin and Jim Hunt.

The NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is a nonpartisan partnership of over 25 organizations working to promote good-government policies that level the playing field for the citizens of North Carolina.