A Big Victory In North Carolina Against Gerrymandering
Sep. 5, 2019
Political districts in North Carolina have been highly gerrymandered. In the 2018 elections, Republican candidates won a bare majority of the votes, but won 10 of the 13 seats. As one Republican lawmaker stated, his party members had settled on this map because “I do not believe it is possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.” This was pure partisanship in its least democratic form.
Democrats and their allies sued and the case advanced to the Supreme Court. In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision, ruled that drawing legislative districts were the responsibility of the state and that it would not interfere with the powers of the states. While no one seemed to contest that gerrymandering was unfair, the court stated that it was the responsibility of the states.
At the time of this ruling, Democrats sharply criticized the court, some even suggested increasing the numbers of justices in order to get results more to their liking. Republicans, on the other hand, praised the decision, primarily because the districts in North Carolina were sharply gerrymandered in their favor.
We have argued that gerrymandering is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. Instead, it is a have-and-have-not issue. The party in power will always try to draw districts in a manner that benefits its partisans and disadvantages its opposition. We have also argued that State Supreme Court decisions in Pennsylvania, among others, and grass roots movements in Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Utah were having a significant impact on limiting gerrymandering and creating a system whereby districts were drawn by independent commissions instead of by politicians.
On September 2, 2019, the movement against gerrymandering had one of its biggest victories. The Supreme Court in North Carolina ruled that legislative boundaries for the State Senate and House were unfairly gerrymandered. In 2018, the Democrats received more votes than the Republicans, but because of gerrymandering, the Republicans held 54% of the House seats and 58% of the Senate seats. Theoretically, if the Democrats received more votes, they should have obtained more seats; but the Republican-controlled legislature placed the Democrats into a small number of districts so it could maintain its control.
In its decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court stated,
“The object of all elections is to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people. (The) …. inescapable conclusion (was that the maps) do not permit voters to freely choose their respresentative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based on partisan sorting.”
With this week’s State Supreme Court decision, all of the districts will have to be redrawn before the next election. While this decision does not impact the U.S. Congressional seats (the case on which the Supreme Court refused to rule), it is very likely that these districts will be redrawn before the 2022 election and after the 2020 census.
In state after state, we are seeing judges and voters rebel against the partisan gerrymandering of their politicians. While the Supreme Court has refused to touch gerrymandering, local court decisions and local grass roots movements are having a huge impact in purple (North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio) and red (Missouri, Utah) states.
Of all of the issues that we follow at Reform Elections Now, we believe the fastest progress is being made in the effort to overturn gerrymandering and create fair elections for all citizens.