A three-judge panel of state judges ordered the legislature to redraw the state’s legislative districts from scratch because they violate the state’s constitution in multiple ways. It’s another explicit and comprehensive rebuke of the practice of rigging districts for partisan gain. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger griped about the opinion but said the legislature would comply with the decision and not appeal it. That means we’ll have new districts in about two weeks.
Republicans have lost most of their cases just like Democrats did before them. However, Republicans took gerrymandering to new levels. They benefited from technology available for the first time after the 2010 census that made it much easier for legislators to rig the maps. They hired a professional mapmaker whose sole purpose was to draw as many districts favorable to Republicans as possible. Then, they bragged about it.
Twenty years ago when Democrats drew districts, they were drawn by legislative staffers, not professionals. Republicans successfully sued to have the maps thrown out throughout the 1990s and early aughts. However, Democrats usually tried to argue that the maps were relatively fair, not that they intended to disenfranchise people. Rep. David Lewis publicly stated that he drew ten of thirteen Congressional districts favorable to Republicans because he couldn’t figure out how to draw eleven. His arrogance ruined any argument Republicans could make about fairness or responsibility to the voters. It was all about partisanship.
Very few judges, regardless of party, like gerrymandering. The system we’ve been using is clearly broken and legislators need to figure out something different. There will never be a flawless answer to mapmaking but the process can be better than it’s been for the past forty years. Now is not the time to let the perfect get in the way of the good. Legislators can fix it or we’ll just end up next decade where we’ve been for the past four.
While Democrats are the ones cheering this decision, the state is not about to make a sharp turn to the left. We should have far more competitive districts but Republicans could still maintain control. Democrats are concentrated into urban areas and the state really is slightly center-right. Republican presidential candidates carried the state in 2012 and 2016 and we have two Republican US Senators for a reason. Fairer districts aren’t going to give Democrats an unfair advantage.
However, the national environment will play a greater role in our elections with fairer maps. The GOP districts insulated North Carolina Republicans from the anti-Trump fervor of 2018 when Democrats got more total votes for legislative races but still found themselves deep in the minority. So far, that anti-GOP sentiment seems to be intact heading into 2020. Republicans in the legislature would be wise to put forth a redistricting plan that prevents either party from exclusively drawing districts after the 2020 census.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >