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Even the Democrats, who might have gained from a court-supervised redrawing of this state’s congressional districts, recognized the folly of trying to do it now. The enormous confusion that would ensue from an 11th-hour redistricting could just as well depress voting numbers and help no one.
So the three-judge federal panel that was poised to order new districts, new primaries and a rescheduled Election Day has backed away from that idea.
Kicking the can down the road for yet another election cycle is, of course, one more victory for the Republican majority in the General Assembly who drew and approved the wildly gerrymandered districts.
After hearing from both sides of the dispute, the three federal judges concluded that, “there is insufficient time for this court to approve a new districting plan and for the state to conduct an election using that plan prior to the seating of the new Congress in January 2019.” The state Democratic Party and individual voters who were plaintiffs in the legal action wrote that the quick fix would be “too disruptive and potentially counterproductive.”
For their part, the attorneys representing the Republican Party and the GOP’s majority in the General Assembly insisted that the gerrymandering claims that the judges ruled on were actually groundless and haven’t been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which had sent the case back to the lower court for review. The Republicans had already filed a new notice of appeal with the nation’s highest court.
If the judges had insisted on an immediate redrawing of the districts, it would have meant chaos. It’s doubtful that new districts could be drawn and approved much before the end of this month. New primaries could have added huge expenses for all the candidates — and local boards of elections — and it’s hard to see how a final election for the congressional seats could be held before the next Congress is seated in January.
That said, the courts should ensure that the 2018 elections are the last ones held with the current district maps, which Republicans acknowledge were drawn to create an overwhelming GOP majority in our congressional delegation — 10 Republicans and only three Democrats in a state where Democrat is still the top voter registration, followed by unaffiliated. Republican is the No. 3 voter registration. And in statewide elections, the voting tally between the two parties is neck-and-neck. When it comes to election results, this is, in recent elections, a “purple” state.
What’s remarkable is that Republicans are no longer coy about their redistricting intent. Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, the legislature’s leading architect of voting districts, publicly acknowledged that he deliberately created 10 congressional districts where Republicans are likely to win, and he said he would have created 11 if he thought it was possible.
Gerrymandering has always been a problem in this country, going all the way back to our beginnings. The Gerry-mander was a newspaper cartoon creature in the early 1800s that lampooned the outrageous electoral districts created at the behest of Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry. In this era of sophisticated, computer-assisted electoral district mapping, the political majority can direct the creation of maps that manipulate demographic distribution of voters and create the desired effect. North Carolina is often held up as one of the nation’s most successful states in these bizarre exercises.
Still, the U.S. Supreme Court is hesitant to put an end to extreme gerrymandering, even though it raises serious constitutional questions. We hope that will change the next time the justices hear this suit and others like it. The people should be able to elect the candidates of their choice, instead of having them chosen by powerful politicians who are gaming the system.