A state evenly divided and gerrymandered

A state evenly divided and gerrymandered

- in Fitzsimon File

The presidential race in North Carolina appears to be dead even just over a month from Election Day. That’s not a surprise. Virtually every poll in the state since the spring has found that any advantage for a candidate in the race has been within the margin of error.

North Carolina is now the classic swing state and not just in presidential politics. There are roughly 6.4 million registered voters in the state, 2.8 million are Democrats, 2 million are Republicans and 1.6 million are unaffiliated.

You would think that would mean close contests for most offices in the state, including congressional seats and control of the General Assembly.

But you would be wrong. There are currently seven Democrats and six Republicans in the state’s 13-member congressional delegation. Most political prognosticators believe that Republicans will hold at least nine seats after the November election, maybe 10.

That has little to do with the candidates running in each district. It’s the result of masterful gerrymandering by an expert hired to draw the congressional district maps by the Republican majority in the General Assembly in the 2011 session.

Republicans took control of the state House and Senate in 2010 in a rare wave election where one party’s momentum sweeps people into office even in districts where their party may not have a clear majority.

No one expects a wave election this year, but Republicans have a good chance to maintain their significant margins in the state House and Senate because of the same partisan map drawer’s expertise.

Those maps are now before the N.C. Supreme Court which won’t consider them until after the election, which is why the race for the one seat up this year on the state’s highest court is drawing a lot of attention and outside money.

It wasn’t easy to draw such favorable legislative maps for Republicans in an evenly divided state. But the cartographer made it work by dividing far more precincts than have ever been divided before and splitting many small towns among several districts.

Millions of voters will receive different ballots than their neighbors at the same polling place.

It doesn’t have to be this way of course, politicians choosing their voters. States like Iowa have taken much of the partisanship out of the redistricting process by handing it over to nonpartisan staff.

The plan is then presented to the General Assembly and lawmakers can only approve it or reject it. They can’t tweak it to make it more favorable to their political party.

The current Republican majority knows all about why an independent redistricting process is vital to fair elections. Republican leaders sponsored bills for an independent redistricting commission for years when they were in the minority.

And to its credit the Republican-led House passed a bill in 2011 but the Senate never considered it.

It called for an independent process in 2021. Republicans wanted to make sure they drew the lines that would control elections for the next ten years, but even the long-range change was too much for the Senate leadership and it’s not clear House leaders are still very keen on the idea either.

Remarkably, some of the think-tanks on the Right now openly argue that politicians should be able to choose their voters with gerrymandered districts as a normal part of the political process.

Republican legislators continue to insist that the maps they approved are legal and fair. The courts will decide the legality.

There is no debate about fairness, not in an evenly divided state with districts that clearly favor Republicans even in a close election year like this one.

If you are looking for a compelling argument for an independent redistricting process, November 6 is likely to provide one.