In last week’s election Republicans won between 53 and 55 percent of the popular vote in North Carolina, depending upon which source of information one uses.
That, one would surmise, should lead to Republican control of both houses of the state General Assembly, as well as the majority of the state’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, by about a 10-percent margin. In real numbers that would mean perhaps a 28-22 advantage in the state Senate, maybe a 66-54 GOP majority in the House of Representatives, perhaps a 7-6 advantage in the state’s delegation to the U.S. House.
The actual numbers are startlingly different, with the Republican Party taking 31 of the state’s 50 senate seats, 77 of the 120 state house seats, and nine of the 13 seats to the U.S. House.
How can this be?
Through a process called gerrymandering. That is the practice of redrawing political districts with one goal in mind: increasing the likelihood your party will win a majority of seats. Common needs or interests of the people in a given district, geography, a common history — none of those factors matter to a political party in power that is intent upon reconfiguring districts in such a manner as to assure the party retains its position of power. Interestingly, various versions of a common thesaurus list as a primary synonym for gerrymander the word “cheat” or “cheating.”
That is what has taken place in North Carolina. Every ten years the U.S. Census Bureau does its thing, counting the residents of the nation, and then state governments around the nation use those figures to redistrict their state.
The Republican Party, which seized power in the General Assembly for the first time since the Civil War in 2010, redrew districts to ensure an overwhelming GOP victory in the elections, even if the actual voting numbers showed a more even split among state residents.
To be fair, the Democratic Party did this for the better part of a century, its leaders determined to stay in power even if the interests of the people were not well-served by the redrawing of district lines. Over time the residents of North Carolina became increasingly dissatisfied with the Democratic Party and liked the alternatives offered by the Republican Party, so much so that the GOP was able to overcome Democratic gerrymandering and take control of the General Assembly.
Two years ago we expressed a hope that the GOP would demonstrate itself to be, at least in North Carolina, a true party of change, that it would show itself to be above petty party politics and appoint a non-partisan committee to redistrict the state. Unfortunately, that was too much to hope for.
Now, however, we renew that call.
Given that we have eight more years before the next census, one might wonder what’s the hurry? Developing the manner in which such a committee would be appointed, and how it will function, is no small feat. We suspect even if there is a serious effort to make such a change, it will take multiple sessions of the General Assembly to come to fruition.
And there’s nothing wrong with having this set and in place ahead of time.
We hope the legislature, and at least our local representatives there, will give this serious thought as the 2013 session approaches.