I seldom miss my opportunity to get a say in our representative democracy.
Normally, I make my way to the polling place so I can get a sticker. I really like the stickers, and I love the buzz about election day. After all, it’s an important day on which we pick those who will lead our community and nation into the future.
Last Tuesday was no different at first. Having done some research and even having spoken to candidates, I went to Mount Carmel Baptist Church knowing for whom I would vote.
I walked in and the very cordial election officials looked up as if to ask, “What is this? Is it a voter?”
They had, in fact, seen few of my kind that day. Tuesday’s election netted a voter turnout of less than 8 percent of registered voters in the Tar Heel State.
That’s a pitiful turnout, but as I cast two votes, I couldn’t help but wonder why I’d shown up to the polls.
Here I was taking time out of my day to vote in two elections, both of which should have been held in March. Somebody must be at fault.
The fact is those folks are at fault for much more than wasting 20 minutes of my day.
Common Cause North Carolina, a self-described nonpartisan group committed to encouraging citizen participation in elections, has estimated the June 7 special primary cost North Carolina taxpayers about $9.5 million. That’s not chump change.
It equates to a little less than $1 per N.C. resident. I want my dollar back.
As far as a $9.5 million chunk of change goes, that’s an awful lot of teachers’ salaries.
Here in Surry County, we paid about $60,000 for this election. That’s the salaries of two starting sheriff’s deputies, with a little change left over for some ribs at 13 Bones.
We paid for an election for two positions. The price tag was made necessary by a group of power-hungry folks in Raleigh. If not for them, I’d have never lost my 20 minutes of life, and maybe my dollar might have been put to use in something necessary.
When Republicans seized control of the legislature in 2010, they had obvious questions to answer.
As they ran around with party hats atop their heads blowing kazoos, they must have asked how they might retain and expand such power. One obvious answer is gerrymandering.
It’s nothing new. Gerrymandering is an age-old political tool for a party in power. It’s sort of a right the party gets. They are allowed to redraw districts with the hope of ensuring their party’s dominance. The only problem — at least for legislators in this state — is the process must not be overly blatant.
One look at the former 12th Congressional District is all one needs to identify gerrymandering was at hand. The district runs from south of Charlotte all the way to Greensboro, picking up every metropolitan area likely to vote Democrat on the way.
“Let’s give them one seat,” said lawmakers. “There are a lot of Democrats in those areas; if we lump them all together in this weird snake-looking shape we will seclude them and ensure those folks don’t mess with our GOP buddies in surrounding areas.”
The trouble is they got caught, as there are also a lot of African-American residents in those areas. A federal court ruled the legislature had involved itself in racial gerrymandering. One look at the district is all it takes to know the court was right.
Now some are blaming the court. I always find it interesting when so-called conservatives and “constitutionalists” jump up and down screaming about judicial tyranny and courts meddling in affairs. It’s always the folks who waive their constitution around in the air who complain.
It seems they aren’t as big of fans of that document and the government it sets up as they proclaim themselves to be, or maybe they just don’t understand the document.
Then there was the other election — a hugely important one. It will decide a majority on the N.C. Supreme Court, but legislators didn’t want that to ever happen. They preferred to keep the 4-3 majority by removing a basic right in this representative democracy — the right to pick between candidates.
The N.C. General Assembly instead opted to put in place a system in which voters gave a justice an up or down vote. It was a system designed to protect incumbents and the GOP majority on the court.
A state court struck that down. Now even state courts are meddling, I guess.
It all worked out, as legislators were able to lump two instances of wasting taxpayer money into one joyful $9.5 million day, which would have never been necessary had the GOP majority simply followed the basic lessons of democracy we learned in middle school civics class.
Elected officials in North Carolina owe us all our dollar back. I’d prefer mine with interest, as payment for their disservice to our state.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.