Redistricting changes in limbo
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
We were hopeful that this would be the year North Carolina changed the way it does redistricting for congressional and General Assembly seats. After all, we’ve been slapped by the courts so many times we’ve lost count. Our record is so bad that the U.S. Supreme Court, which has long been loathe to meddle in the politics of redistricting, decided to accept a North Carolina case.
Sometime between now and the end of the court’s term in June, we’ll get a ruling. We had hoped, meanwhile, that the prospect of court-ordered change would be sufficient to convince General Assembly leaders that it’s time to change our redistricting system. Whichever party is in the legislative minority here has long supported a move to a more independent redistricting system, insulated from the political pressures that essentially disenfranchise some voters and create districts that fail to provide full and fair representation for all voters. Even Senate leader Phil Berger was a strong voice for reform, when his Republican party was in the minority. He immediately flipped when he took charge of the Senate.
But this year, even some Republicans are pushing for reform, at least in the House. Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Henderson County Republican, has filed several redistricting-reform bills. One, which has 66 sponsors, would create an appointed commission to draw legislative maps. Legislators could approve or reject the maps, but couldn’t modify them. Another McGrady bill, with 65 sponsors, would approve a voter referendum to change the state constitution to have legislative staff draw the maps, subject to General Assembly approval.
Two Senate bills would amend the constitution to create appointed redistricting commissions that would have the last word on redrawn maps. That’s a solution that other states have adopted, one that best insulates process from political meddling. In all, there are half a dozen bills that address gerrymandering with significant changes in redistricting procedures.
But so far, House and Senate leaders have kept the reform bills bottled up. They’re not, it appears, inclined to act on them. McGrady believes House and Senate leaders are waiting to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules.
It’s also likely that some redistricting cases will end up before the N.C. Supreme Court as well. One way or another, there’s a strong possibility that gerrymandering will have a judicial comeuppance soon. Legislative leaders should be able to see that and let the debate over alternatives begin.
The Fayetteville Observer