RALEIGH – State lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled a bipartisan proposal to take party politics out of the way North Carolina’s voting maps are drawn.
Instead of lawmakers crafting their own districts for partisan advantage, House Bill 69 would have an 11-member citizens commission draw maps free from partisan politics, with robust public input and full transparency. The districts would then be presented to the legislature for an up or down vote. The bill would take effect for the next redistricting cycle in 2021.
The bill’s primary sponsors are Reps. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), Robert Reives (D-Chatham, Durham), Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) and Brian Turner (D-Buncombe).
McGrady noted that his fellow Republicans advocated for redistricting reform when they were in the legislative minority prior to 2011, and he urged his GOP colleagues to help pass reform now that they hold both chambers of the NC General Assembly.
“Supporting redistricting reform was right when we were in the minority, and it’s still right now,” Rep. McGrady said. “We are here to serve the people of North Carolina and we must make sure they can have full confidence in the integrity and fairness of our elections.”
“This is something that should be done regardless of which party is in power,” Rep. Hardister said. “We always need to find ways to make government better. This would help to make that happen.”
Under North Carolina’s longstanding system, the party that controls the legislature also controls redistricting. For decades, voting maps have been created by politicians behind closed doors with the aim of heavily favoring their own party. The result has been gerrymandered voting districts that deprive voters of a voice in their elections.
The proposal introduced Wednesday would create a new redistricting process that puts voters ahead of partisan politics.
“This bill will ensure that all North Carolina voters have a voice in choosing their representatives,” Rep. Reives said. “It will increase public confidence in our government and strengthen our democracy.”
“This commission will re-establish people’s confidence in the fairness of our elections and will restore the voice to those who were silenced over the years by the gerrymandering done by both parties,” Rep. Turner said. “This change is long past due and I am excited to be a part of this important legislation.”
Jane Pinsky, director of the nonpartisan NC Coalition for Lobbying & Government Reform, said the time has arrived to enact a fair and transparent redistricting process.
“North Carolinians are tired of the endless controversy and endless lawsuits around redistricting and they are saying enough is enough. It’s time to finally end gerrymandering,” Pinsky said.
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, applauded the bipartisan group of lawmakers for championing redistricting reform.
“Gerrymandering undermines the fundamental principles of American democracy by depriving voters of a voice in who represents them,” Phillips said. “This bill is a big step forward in respecting the rights of North Carolina citizens.”
A solid majority of North Carolinians want impartial redistricting, as shown by a survey conducted in 2018 by Public Policy Polling. That poll found 59 percent of voters in favor of making the map-drawing process nonpartisan, with just 15 percent opposed to reform.
Over 300 locally elected leaders from 140 towns and cities across North Carolina have signed a petition calling on the legislature to enact nonpartisan redistricting. And more than 100 North Carolina business leaders have joined the call for an end to gerrymandering.
Fact sheet – House Bill 69:
- An eleven-person commission will be made up of voters nominated by legislative leaders.
- The commission will have four members from each of both major parties as well as three voters not affiliated with either major party. The four legislative leaders responsible for appointing the commissioners shall have the goal of representing the state’s racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity.
- The commission will hire staff to assist them, hold public hearings both before and after the drawing of the maps, and create the maps in a transparent public process.
- The commission is to seek public input, by holding public hearings and permitting the submission of proposed maps online and by mail.
- The commission is tasked with drawing districts that will be compact, contiguous, and abide by state and federal law. No use shall be made of political factors, including voter registration, previous election results, or incumbents’ addresses, except where needed to comply with state and federal law.
- Once the commission completes and approves a redistricting plan, the plan will be sent to the NC General Assembly, which will vote on the maps without altering them.
- The process will outline a schedule to provide the General Assembly with proposed maps as quickly as possible.