Put voters first

by | May 23, 2017 | Editor's Blog, Redistricting, Voting Rights | 9 comments

North Carolina lost its redistricting case—again. It happens several times a decade and doesn’t matter whether it’s Republicans or Democrats drawing the lines. According to Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan, the 12th Congressional District made its fifth appearance before the court.

The gerrymandering following the 2010 census was more egregious, in part, because the technology gave the mapmakers sophisticated tools to pick and choose voters. In North Carolina, it was also more extreme because Republicans were drawing the maps for first time in well over a century. They wanted to make sure they could maintain control for the foreseeable future and claim Democrats did the same to them.

Republicans claim that when they draw gerrymanders, the court calls them racist. When Democrats draw them, they’re combatting racism and complying with the Voting Rights Act. But that’s not what the court or the VRA is doing.

The Voting Rights Act is meant to ensure that African-Americans aren’t denied political power and representation because of their race. The balance is certainly delicate and the courts have never offered clear instructions for mapmakers. That said, the GOP in North Carolina deliberately drew maps designed to put as many African-Americans into as few districts as possible at both the Congressional and legislative level. Their goal was to limit the number of Democrats who could be elected and they succeeded, gaining veto proof majorities in the state House and Senate and garnering a 10-3 advantage in a state that is roughly evenly divided.

Republicans effectively kept African-Americans from influencing almost any election outside of the majority-minority districts and made sure that they were in the minority party in the legislature. Clearly, they rigged the system to reduce African-American power and influence. Combined with voter suppression laws designed to restrict access to the polls for African-American voters, the GOP has a very difficult time making the case that they’re not a discriminatory party.

If the GOP really wants to shed its image of racial intolerance, they should embrace a non-partisan redistricting commission. Nobody could blame them for districts that put African-Americans into too few districts or scattered them so thinly that they couldn’t win. In addition, they could save the state millions of dollars from lawsuits that will inevitably occur if they keep drawing lines.

It’s time to end twenty years of gerrymandering battles that keep the wounds of the Jim Crow South open. It’s time to return to competitive districts that reduce extremism and promote moderation. It’s time to put the good of voters before desires of politicians.


  1. willard cottrell

    So much pie in the sky talk. My mother -RIP – recognized republicans for what they are back in the 30’s – liars and SOB’s. Working w/ them is impossible. The only reasonable alternative is to kick them out. In states where gerrymandering is not so flagrant, they still won overwhelmingly. Complain as you will about it, until progressives can discover the right message, we’ll remain in the wilderness.

  2. Jay Ligon

    Gerrymandering traces back to the late 1700s, but the plan that the Republicans executed in 2010 and 2011 reinvented transformed American politics.

    In 2010 Republicans gained nearly seven hundred state legislative seats nationwide, the largest increase either party has seen in modern history. Twenty state legislatures were switched from Democratic to Republican majorities. The G.O.P. took control over both houses of the legislature in twenty-five states. The new majorities greeted the 2010 census with glee and began to remake the American political map and set us on red-state course. The right had the buggy whip.

    Gerrymandering techniques include “packing” and “cracking.” The party in charge of redistricting tries to “pack” voters from the rival party into as few districts as possible, to minimize the number of seats the opposition is likely to win. In the second, blocs of opposition voters are parceled out among several districts, to achieve the same goal.

    In North Carolina, the GOP packed black voters into a few districts. Targeting black voters serves two functions for Republicans. The impact of large numbers of voters can be minimized by packing large numbers of the opposition into a few districts, and by targeting black voters, Republicans were able to take shots at reducing the impact of Democrats, since blacks are more likely to vote Democratic. Racial discrimination, thereby, kills two birds with one stone.

    State legislators are armed with mapping, technological weapons allowed them to draw impregnable lines staging “the largest political heist in modern memory.”

    “In the past, gerrymandering had been an incumbent protection racket, a means of mischief, something that both parties did. What the Republicans did in 2010 and 2011–helped along by Citizens United, a brilliant plan, and technological advances that made map-making amazingly precise–turned gerrymandering into a blunt-force weapon for partisan control.”

    An important factor in the timing of the perfect racist storm was the fate of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 2010. The VRA was signed into law in 1965, extended ten years later in 1975, extended for 25 years in 1982 and extended again for 25 years in 2006. The last three extensions were signed by Presidents Ford, Reagan and George W. Bush, all Republicans. The last bill was passed by unanimously by Congress. In 2010, the Supreme Court held provisions of VRA unconstitutional and declared racial discrimination a thing of the past. Literally hours after the VRA was overturned, legislatures in old Dixie states wrote new racist roadblocks to black voters. North Carolina led the charge to turn back black voters from the polls.

    Justice Kagan wrote for the majority: “Uncontested evidence in the record show that the State’s mapmakers, considering District 1, purposefully established a racial target African Americans should make up no less than a majority of the voting-age population.”

    Republicans have enjoyed the tail wind of success in racial discrimination. In a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans, our 13 Congressional districts are split 10-3, with Republicans taking 10 seats in Congress and Democrats only 3.. The state house is dominated in both chambers by super-majorities.

    Technology married to an old political trick, gerrymandering, along with an eagerness to deny equal protection to black voters has produced a stunningly successful rule by a racist minority. If the Republicans had their way, North Carolina would look like South Africa under the Apartheid system.

    • Apply Liberally

      Couldn’t have stated the case better than you did, Jay, so I won’t even try.

  3. Norma Munn

    Gorsuch was not able to vote on this case. He was not on the court when it was heard. I would not become too optimistic about future cases. Kennedy joined with those saying that partisan gerrymandering is OK. That is the future focus of court cases, and unless it is won, either party can do as they please regardless of voters. And they wonder why voters see less and less reason to bother with them. If my vote has no value, or less value than my neighbor a few blocks away, or in the next county, many will correctly infer that voting is not worth the effort. Not wise, perhaps, but very understandable.

    • Norma Munn

      Sorry to have spoiled your fun! But we both know there will be another opportunity — soon.

  4. Walter Rand

    Thomas –

    I disagree that the “balance is certainly delicate and the courts have never offered clear instructions for mapmakers.” It is easy to draw appropriate maps. It isn’t the courts’ job to offer instructions; in North Carolina the instructions are contained in the NC Constitution. Districts for the state legislature (the General Assembly) must be made up of whole (undivided) counties and when the voting districts are comprised of multiple counties those counties must be contiguous. There is no need to delicately balance anything. What is being balanced? Racism and anti-racism? The federal courts ruled against the gerrymandered districts because the districts discriminated based on race and that is not allowed under federal law. What keeps being ignored in NC’s gerrymandering cases is that the NC Constitution outlaws gerrymandering for seats in the general assembly already. Voting districts are required to be made up of whole counties. Dividing counties for general assembly voting districts is unconstitutional under NC law. If our judges simply followed the law already in place gerrymandering would no longer exist, at least for the General Assembly. Since the General Assembly creates the other voting districts as well, this would lead to an end to gerrymandering in NC. Unfortunately our courts so far have not had the backbone to follow this law. Perhaps they are afraid the General Assembly would retaliate against them if they corrected our illegal voting districts. If the NC Constitution were followed there would be no conflict with the Voting Rights Act. The issue of whether political gerrymandering vs racial gerrymandering is ok under federal law would fall by the wayside because all gerrymandering is illegal under NC law, at least for electing state legislators.

    • Joe

      It is not as simple as just following North Carolina’s constitutional requirement for whole county districts. The state also must comply with the US Supreme Court’s decades old dictate that the districts contain equal population.

  5. Walt de Vries, Ph.D.

    Does anyone have any idea how much of the state’s money has been paid out for lawyers to defend unconstitutional laws passed by the Republican state legislature since they took control? This, even when they were advised what they were doing would result in litigation that they would lose?
    Enough to pay for school lunches?

    • Norma Munn

      I too would like to know, especially in view of the late night/early morning legislation passed in the NC Senate a few days ago. Seems like the basis for a great online tweeting and ad campaign. I bet there are some college kids out there with the tech savvy to do something fast, cheap and funny. Nothing hurts an election official as much as being laughed at while also being skewered by legitimate criticism. Can’t someone reading this stuff find the data and the younger generation able and willing to do this? (I don’t know anyone or I would not be asking.)

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