When drawing congressional and legislative district maps, can we be assured of fair and impartial elections just because lawmakers didn’t use racial or partisan factors in drawing districts? Republicans who are drawing the maps, as might be expected, say “yes,” we can have confidence in them. Democrats, also as expected, say “no.”
The old proverb says, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” In our current analogy we might say the impartiality of the maps can be found in actual or at least predicted results. To be fair, we can’t speak to results at this moment because no maps have been approved. We’re told they will be in the next week or so.
This whole process is problematic. Prospective candidates won’t have much time to determine if it is viable for them to run and mount effective campaigns. Candidate filing opens on Monday, Dec. 6 and closes on Friday, Dec. 17. Making things more difficult is the fact that the 2022 primary elections are scheduled for March 8. This constricted election timetable heavily favors incumbents who already have support organizations, name recognition and a great advantage in raising money. The filing period should be moved to January and the primary date rescheduled to May, our traditional time.
Looking at the maps that have surfaced, lawmakers are obviously up to their old gerrymandering tricks. We will long remember the statement of David Lewis, then the Republican House co-chair drawing the 13 congressional districts in 2019. Lewis shamelessly boasted, “I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats, because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.” The courts ultimately threw the maps out; currently we have eight Republicans and five Democrats in congress.
Our state gained a 14th congressional seat as a result of the 2020 Census and some of the proposed maps we’ve seen would likely result in 10 Republicans and four Democrats. Further, we could easily send an all-white delegation to Washington, despite the fact four in 10 North Carolinians are non-white. Article II, Section 5 of our Constitution mandates that no county shall be divided in the formation of districts. Current maps would divide some counties, like Wake and Mecklenburg into two or more congressional districts. And mapmakers can make all the claims they want about not taking race or partisan interests into consideration, but we didn’t just come in on the last turnip truck. You can bet the farm they know which counties and sections of counties elect which parties and races.
The public hearings and comment period regarding proposed maps are just a show. Final decisions on new districts will be made by a handful in each chamber and, since Democrats are the minority party, they will have little say-so in any final determinations.
Back to our pudding analogy, what is being concocted is a lumpy and sour pudding that not only won’t taste good but will result in more costly and divisive lawsuits. If the past is any predictor, expect court mandates to require lawmakers to redraw them at least once more.
Republicans appear shocked there is strong opposition to their maps. Senator Paul Newton, co-chair of the Senate redistricting committee cried, “Now that we’re not looking at race, the Democrat (sic) Party is telling us, ‘Oh, you should be looking at race.’” That dog won’t hunt, Paul. You’re not listening to all that’s being said.
Since 2011, a large and growing chorus of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters have been saying that the only way we are ever going to get fair and impartial elections is to create an independent redistricting commission to establish districts. North Carolina deserves better.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.