Prominent NC Republicans call for end to gerrymandering in the state

Two of North Carolina’s most prominent Republicans are speaking out against partisan gerrymandering in the state and are calling on the legislature to pass independent redistricting reform.

Former governor Jim Martin was joined in Charlotte by that city’s former mayor, Richard Vinroot, on Wednesday at an event presented by the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club. The two Republicans said that gerrymandering polarizes North Carolina’s politics and voiced their support for a nonpartisan process of drawing the state’s voting maps.

Vinroot, who was also the Republican nominee for governor in 2000, said that gerrymandering undermines competition in elections by creating districts that so heavily favor one side or the other that candidates from the opposing party often don’t even bother to run for office. He cited the fact that nearly half of this year’s NC House races have just one candidate on the ballot.

He said that once elected, politicians from gerrymandered districts have “really no need to talk to the other side because your only danger is getting a primary back home.”

Martin and Vinroot are asking the legislature to pass a plan that would take the power of drawing the state’s congressional and legislative voting maps out of the hands of partisan lawmakers and give it to nonpartisan legislative staff. The two said that the redistricting reform plan should be put to a vote by the public in the form of a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution.

Martin noted that both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor this year – Pat McCrory and Roy Cooper – have spoken out against gerrymandering. He urged the audience to ask legislative candidates about their stance on gerrymandering.

“This is your responsibility to reach out, and get your friends all across the state to reach out to every candidate for the General Assembly this year and start pinning them down on whether they would support redistricting reform of some kind. You can’t spell out all of the details, but you’ve got to get them committed to doing it,” Martin said.

North Carolina has long felt the negative impact of partisan gerrymandering. Since 1992, nearly half of all legislative races have had just one candidate on the ballot, leaving millions of voters with no choice at the ballot box. Similarly, the state’s congressional maps have been gerrymandered by the legislature in such a way as to minimize competition, undermining the right of voters to have a voice in who represents them.

In the face of ongoing gerrymandering, there has been growing bipartisan support for reform. Last year, a majority of NC House members co-sponsored House Bill 92, which would have taken the power of redistricting out of the hands of partisan legislators and given it to nonpartisan legislative staff. However, that bill was not given a vote in the legislature.

Recently, a group of 50 business owners launched a coalition to press for an end to gerrymandering. And over 240 civic leaders across North Carolina have signed a petition calling on the legislature to pass independent redistricting reform. Meanwhile, a bipartisan panel of former state judges took part in a redistricting simulation to show how a voting map could be drawn free from partisan politics.

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