The Year of Reckoning for Gerrymandering

With a landmark court victory and a bipartisan bill in the legislature, 2018 is shaping up to be a decisive time in the fight for fair voting maps

RALEIGH – For almost as long as our nation has existed, gerrymandering has plagued our democracy.

Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of manipulating voting districts for their own gain, too often leaving citizens without a real choice or a voice in our elections. But after 200 years of gerrymandering running rampant, 2018 could be the year we finally rein it in.

This past October, our landmark case of Common Cause v. Rucho went to trial at a federal courthouse in Greensboro, challenging the legislature’s extreme partisan gerrymander of North Carolina’s congressional districts.

We filed our lawsuit after legislative leaders openly boasted that they would replace their illegal racial gerrymander that was rejected by the courts with one designed solely to benefit Republican candidates.

“I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats, because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats,” Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) told his redistricting committee in February of 2016.

This month the judges hearing our case issued a monumental ruling, striking down the gerrymandered congressional districts. The decision is a huge win in the fight for fair voting maps. For the first time in North Carolina’s history, a court found that partisan gerrymandering – like racial gerrymandering – is unconstitutional.

“On its most fundamental level, partisan gerrymandering violates the core principle of republican government … that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,” Judge James Wynn wrote in the court’s scathing rebuke of the legislature’s shameless gerrymander. “Put differently, partisan gerrymandering represents an abuse of power.”

The ultimate fate of this game-changing decision in Common Cause v. Rucho now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court. We’ve asked the justices to act swiftly to either uphold the ruling or hear our case, because conducting yet another election with unconstitutional congressional districts would cause profound harm to North Carolina voters.

The outcome of our case, along with key cases from Wisconsin and Maryland before the Supreme Court, could finally end gerrymandering in our state and across the nation.

At the same time that we see remarkable progress against gerrymandering in the courts, there is broad support for reform among citizens, the business community and political leaders.

Nearly 60 percent of North Carolina voters want our congressional and legislative districts to be drawn in a nonpartisan fashion, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling. Just 15 percent of voters want to stick with a partisan redistricting system.

Meanwhile, over 100 business owners have launched a coalition calling for an end to gerrymandering. And more than 250 locally elected officials from 130 towns and cities across the state have asked the legislature to take politics out of the way our voting maps are drawn.

The message from the courts and the public is clear: we need fair redistricting.

House Bill 200 offers a real solution to gerrymandering in North Carolina. The proposal would take redistricting power out of the hands of legislators and give it to an impartial body, which in turn would draw fair voting districts free from partisan politics.

The bill has bipartisan support in the NC House, led by four Republicans, and enjoys overwhelming support among North Carolina voters. Yet, GOP legislative leaders stubbornly refuse to give HB200 a vote, instead preferring to cling to the sinking ship of gerrymandering.

Nonpartisan redistricting is working in several other states. And map-drawing simulations using nonpartisan standards have shown that fair redistricting benefits both Republican and Democratic voters by creating competitive districts that truly reflect North Carolina’s political balance.

Allowing politicians to use gerrymandering to insulate themselves from competition and accountability makes no sense. And any politician who fears fair elections has no business representing the people of our state.

The end of gerrymandering may finally be near. It’s time for North Carolina’s legislature to heed the call for reform and enact fair redistricting now.

Bob Phillips is executive director of Common Cause North Carolina.