Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments that could change redistricting forever. The court hears a Wisconsin case in which challengers argue that partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional, while the state says that the redistricting maps are matter that should be left to them. The case affects North Carolina since our state is among the most heavily gerrymandered in the nation.
In North Carolina, Republicans drew maps intended to muffle Democratic voices. Republicans hold a 10-3 majority in Congressional districts and super-majorities in both houses of the legislature despite only winning slightly more than half the popular vote. When asked why he drew the 10-3 Congressional maps, Republican Rep. David Lewis responded, “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”
Republicans like to say that they won control of the legislature in 2010 under Democratic gerrymanders. That’s not quite true. In 2002, the maps Democrats drew were thrown out by the court and drawn by Republican Superior Court Judge Knox Jenkins. Democrats drew new maps in 2004 but they had to meet Jenkins’ approval. They were not nearly as partisan as the ones the legislature has drawn today.
The Jenkins’ maps also lay waste to another GOP talking point: In 2002, Republicans won the majority of votes for state Senate while Democrats won a majority of seats. Jenkins maps were evenly divided with each party getting 16 safe seats and the remaining 18 were at least somewhat competitive. Democrats won because of incumbency, better candidates and better use of resources, not because of rigged maps.
In contrast, Republican legislators didn’t even draw the maps they approved. They brought in a hired gun with tax payer money to produce gerrymanders that would solidify their majorities while reducing competition in elections. That’s certainly bad for democracy and, I would argue, it’s been bad for the people of North Carolina.
Gerrymandering is as old as the Republic but Republicans have taken it to a new level with professional mapmakers and sophisticated technology. They’ve become an extremist party in process as well as ideology. They’re holding power by reducing competition and restricting access to the polls for people who disagree with them. The case before the court may be ostensibly about gerrymandering but it’s really about stopping the slide from democracy to autocracy.