Morrisville Town Council adopts new, impartial voting maps as model of redistricting reform

The Morrisville Town Council on Tuesday night adopted new voting maps for its local elections, drawn free from political consideration, in what could be a model for North Carolina.

The redrawing of Morrisville’s voting maps came in response to rapid growth within the town’s limits as shown by a special census. The town council directed staff to draw new voting maps for Morrisville’s local elections without consideration of such political factors as voter registration, past election results or the residences of incumbents. That final factor is especially important in Morrisville, where candidates for town council must reside in the district they represent.

In turn, town staff created three possible maps that followed the criteria outlined by the council and provided opportunities for public input. On Tuesday night, the Town Council voted 5-2 to adopt one of those maps.

Morrisville’s adoption of maps drawn free from political consideration comes at a time when redistricting and gerrymandering are highly controversial issues in North Carolina. Recent court rulings have invalidated congressional, legislative and local voting districts drawn by the legislature. Bob Phillips of Common Cause North Carolina, a longtime advocate for ending gerrymandering, said Morrisville’s action is a positive example of how impartial redistricting could work at the local and state levels.

“We applaud the Morrisville Town Council for putting into practice a common-sense system for drawing voting maps free from political influence,” Phillips said. “We hope other municipalities – and most importantly, the state legislature – take note of how impartial redistricting can successfully be adopted in North Carolina.”

Last year, a majority of NC House members co-sponsored House Bill 92, which would have taken the power of congressional and legislative redistricting out of the hands of partisan legislators and given it to nonpartisan legislative staff. While that bill was not given a vote in the legislature, it did inspire Morrisville’s adoption of a non-political system of drawing its local voting maps.

Town council members also cited a redistricting simulation conducted this summer by Common Cause NC and Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy as showing how independent redistricting could work for their municipality.

“The steps taken by the Morrisville Town Council are a great example of the increasing support for redistricting reform that we’re seeing in North Carolina,” said Tom Ross, distinguished fellow with the Sanford School of Public Policy. “It is heartening to see town council members from both parties support a redistricting plan that puts citizens ahead of politics.”

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, including Morrisville, have passed resolutions in support of independent redistricting. Last month, over 50 North Carolina business leaders launched a coalition calling for an end to gerrymandering. Both Gov. Pat McCrory and his 2016 gubernatorial opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper, are on record opposing gerrymandering, as are former governors Jim Martin and Jim Hunt.

In August, Common Cause filed a potentially landmark lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina.