Last week a group of former North Carolina Supreme Court chief justices and other retired judges unveiled a proposed congressional district map, showing how North Carolina could — maybe should — look when it comes to its congressional delegation.
By now the story is well known — the districts as drawn by the General Assembly in 2011 were challenged in court, a challenge that was ultimately successful when the courts ruled the districts were racially gerrymandered.
Surry County, which had long been part of the fifth congressional district, was lumped in with the meandering, odd-shaped sixth district.
After the court ruling, Surry County will be back in the fifth district, effective after the November elections.
The court ruling was no surprise, given that the districts as drawn in 2011 were clearly drawn in a way to dilute minority voting power and to ensure the state would have an overwhelmingly GOP make-up in its Congressional representation in Washington, D.C.
Aside from the idea of unfairly representing the population of the state on Capitol Hill, the maps lumped some communities in the same districts with others where they had little, if anything, in common.
Surry County, as part of the 6th district, was in the same congressional district as Caswell, Person, and Granville counties, along with parts of Vance, Alamance and Guilford counties. We were not in with neighboring Alleghany, Yadkin, and nearby Forsyth, communities with which our county has much more in common.
Some of the former districts had long, meandering fingers from the main bodies of the district, boundaries that looked silly and clearly were done in a manner to lump minority — and largely Democratic — voters in just a few districts.
The result was 10 seats held by Republicans, three seats held by Democrats, despite the fact that Republicans are actually a minority among state voters. Split along party lines, the state has more registered Democrats — 2.6 million compared to 2.1 million Republicans and 1.9 million unaffiliated voters — according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
Clearly, North Carolina is not a majority Republican state, and Republicans holding 10 of the state’s 13 congressional districts is not representative of the state.
This committee of retired judges never looked at political party registration or recent election results — maybe the main factors used by the General Assembly in drawing up the maps in 2011. In redrawing the maps, the judges focused on population in each district, common areas of interest for communities, basic geography and similar factors.
The result? Based on recent election results, six districts that would likely elect Republican candidates, four likely to select a Democratic candidate, and three would be a toss-up.
That’s certainly a fair representation of the state’s electorate.
This comes on the heels of another early August court decision that found North Carolina had drawn its General Assembly seats in 2011 along racially gerrymandered lines as well, thus the state House of Delegate and State Senate seats North Carolina has used over the past six years are unconstitutional. The courts decided to allow the state to proceed with the 2016 elections along the present boundaries, with an order than the 2017 General Assembly redraw the lines.
The temptation, of course, is to redraw districts in a manner that ensures your party stays in power. The Democrats did that for more than a century in North Carolina, and the practice is common throughout the nation. While legal, it’s certainly unethical and a cowardly way of governing. When the districts are redrawn not just along partisan lines, but along racial lines is when the action runs afoul of the law. Our state legislators crossed that line with both the General Assembly and Congressional districts, ensuring taxpayers would be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and expenses associated with both cases.
As we did in 2011, we ask the General Assembly to appoint a non-partisan, independent committee to redraw those districts — along with the Congressional districts — in a fair and balanced manner and to pass legislation that would ensure the decennial redrawing of the districts is always done by such a committee. We urge our representatives, Rep. Sarah Stevens and State Sen. Shirley Randleman, to make this their cause.
North Carolina has had enough party politics, now for actual governoring, with the good of the people in mind. This is a chance for the GOP to move from ruling just because it has the power at present to actually governing in a responsible, ethical manner.