By Patrick Fitzsimmons- Gerrymandering has been around for a long time, and it has been called this odd word since 1812 when Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts had district lines drawn to benefit his party. The shape of one of the districts was particularly ridiculous and looked like a salamander, hence Gerry + salamander = gerrymander.
Gerrymandering is fundamentally undemocratic and unfair but has been used by politicians everywhere to increase the chances of their party winning. Democrats and Republicans alike have done this, but the current North Carolina General Assembly has been extreme in their use of it.
The practice has become more egregious in modern times due to the increased precision that technology can provide in “cracking and packing” voters. Cracking means dispersing a group of voters into several districts to prevent them from reaching a majority.
Packing means combining as many like-minded voters into one district as possible to prevent them from impacting elections in other districts. Improved technology coupled with enhanced ruthlessness on the part of the North Carolina General Assembly has produced an outrageous districting map in our state. Current districting in NC is so severely gerrymandered that a lawsuit claiming it to be unconstitutional has been filed and accepted by the US Supreme Court.
The state senator in charge of drawing the latest design, Bob Rucho, infamously stated that his committee drew districts “to give partisan advantage to ten Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with eleven Republicans and two Democrats.” Nevermind that the voters of the state had voted in a manner that should have resulted in a more evenly split result.
It is unfortunate that this issue will now be decided by the court instead of voters; however, many state parties have been unable to resist the temptation of cheating to gain the upper hand. Voters, on the other hand, want districting done by independent or non-partisan commissions. Last year referendums on creating such commissions were on the ballot in four states, and the idea won in every state with margins as high as 71% to 29%!
There are now ten states with such commissions, and local representatives have introduced House Bill 69 to create the same in North Carolina. The bill is championed by Chuck McGrady, a Republican, and Brian Turner, a Democrat. The bill is gaining momentum and is supported by many state Republicans who fear that they will lose control of the General Assembly in 2020 elections and the Democrats would then be in place to draw new districts following the 2020 census.
Voters of all parties support fair and independent redistricting, and we need to adopt a system that supports it. The Supreme Court is likely to find the current district maps of NC unconstitutional as lower courts already have, but citizens will have the chance to create a better and more equitable system of congressional districting. Let’s build a better voting system in NC that we can all be proud of.
Patrick Fitzsimmons is a Town Councilman in the community of Woodfin, NC.