· Drawing legislative districts is inherently partisan.
· Such proposals would take power away from the voters.
Legislative redistricting reform proponents on the Left have become more vocal since Republicans took control of the legislature in 2010. Since 2010, proponents on the left have floated “independent” redistricting committees in various forms, primarily bipartisan commissions staffed by bureaucrats and others appointed by elected or other political officials.
The fact is, redistricting is and always had been an inherently partisan process. The best way to deal with that fact is to ensure the process is transparently implemented by the elected officials charged with the responsibility by our state’s Constitution. They are the ones who the voters can hold accountable at the ballot box – not nameless, faceless bureaucrats.
On January 11, the first day of the 2017 legislative session, a cluster of organizations (almost all of them liberal or leftist) held a press conference at the State Legislative Building to renew their push for a non-partisan redistricting committee. Their real goal? Take the responsibility of drawing North Carolina’s congressional and legislative districts away from state’s legislators and hand the process over to the “nonpartisan” legislative bureaucracy. This is what progressives do: remove power from the people and give it to unelected “professionals” – because they supposedly know better.
At this press conference, the redistricting reform groups offered a new suggestion by way of the Iowa model for so-called nonpartisan district drawing. The Iowa model includes “nonpartisan” legislative staff assisted by an “independent” commission appointed by the legislature. The staff and commission work on the maps with no input from legislators. The staff working with the commission has three chances to draw a map that the legislature will implement, if they fail the legislature then draws their own map.
In the end, it appears, the Iowa model is a partisan committee that merely adds a new layer of bureaucratic meddling to the redistricting process.
Through litigation in the 1980s and 1990s, North Carolina’s redistricting process has been honed to the point that legislators must follow specific guidelines to produce maps that will withstand litigation. Case in point: In Stephenson v. Bartlett (2002) the Court required a step-by-step method to encompass the Whole County Provision with the other laws. Based on the law, legislators followed these guidelines:
· First, the General Assembly should draw the districts required by the Voting Rights Act.
· Second, it should take all the counties with just the right population to be single-member districts and make them one-county single-member districts.
· Third, it should take all the counties that have just the right populations for one or more districts and divide those counties into compact single-member districts.
· Fourth, for the remaining counties it should group them into clusters of counties and divide the clusters into compact single-member districts, crossing county lines within the cluster as little as possible.
The Republican-led legislature in 2011 followed that court’s directives as well as the rules set forth by the National Voter Act of 1965 to produce maps that were approved quickly by the Obama Justice Department. They even survived several lawsuits filed by liberal organizations – until the Left finally found sympathetic judges.
Another example of litigation sharpening the process came in early 2016, when a panel of federal judges ruled the legislature relied too heavily on race when it drew the 1st and 12th districts in 2011. The court gave the state two weeks to draw new districts. The Republican-led legislature unveiled the new congressional map two days before the deadline, revealing a map that seemed to surprise everyone. While the political outcome seemed to remain the same (10 Republican and three Democratic districts), the districts appeared markedly more compact. Interesting to note, that map was redrawn even though the previous districts were approved by the U.S. Justice Department and the North Carolina Supreme Court and used in the 2012 and 2014 elections.
According to Ballotpedia, there are now 13 states that use either advisory commissions, independent commissions or politician commissions to draw congressional and legislative districts. Advisory commissions make recommendations to the legislatures, but the legislatures are not bound to accept the commission’s recommendations. Independent commissions generally do not allow elected officials to participate on the commission, while politician commissions appoint elected officials. In other words, most of these commissions have members who are elected officials or who are appointed by elected officials, including governors, legislative leaders or leaders of the two biggest parties.
There is no evidence that nonpartisan redistricting committees eliminate partisanship or political gerrymandering, increase the number of “competitive” districts or even lessen the number of lawsuits. It is impossible to take politics out of the redistricting process. Instead we should continue to insist on a transparent redistricting process. This will allow voters to determine whether the elected officials in charge followed all the rules and laws pertaining to the process.
It is encouraging to know that passage of a bill requiring a “nonpartisan” committee to draw the next round of maps in 2020 is unlikely. State Rep. David Lewis stopped by that recent press conference and was quoted as saying:
“I think a lot of the merits that are portrayed that the Iowa plan brings — reduce litigation, better product, more participation, more people running for office — frankly just don’t bear out,” Lewis said. “If you look at the number of unopposed seats in Iowa, [in] the legislature, it was roughly comparable with what we had here.”
Anyone involved in politics knows that there really is nothing that is non-partisan. So the suggestion of a nonpartisan redistricting committee, a committee made up of people who consider themselves “nonpartisan,” is a fantasy. It could be construed as an attempt to hide the partisan workings of what would undoubtedly be an elitist committee that would determine who controls North Carolina and would take power away from voters.