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Guest Editorial: Gerrymandering makes mockery of ‘consent of the governed’ principle

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Extreme partisan redistricting creates gridlock. Or not.

Here in North Carolina, one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, Republican supermajorities in Raleigh can rule unchecked. They’re changing the way judges are elected to advantage Republicans. They wrote partisan election rules that, according to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” They’re losing one legal case after another as they draw maps to gain advantage.

Veto-proof majorities ensure that even a Democratic governor has little means to thwart Republican power grabs.

But it’s a different story at the national level, where gridlock reigns.

Strong majorities of Americans support letting undocumented immigrants brought to America as children stay here rather than being sent back to countries they’ve never known.

But Congress stumbled into a government shutdown over that issue, and it remains unresolved because lawmakers are unable to compromise on much.

Gerrymandering causes them to worry less about an election challenge from the opposite party than about a primary opponent from their own party. Primary voters tend to be party loyalists, fiercely dedicated liberals or conservatives who vilify those on the other side.

The lawmakers willing to work across the aisle when needed stand a good chance of being “primaried” and losing their seat to a true-believer who vows never to compromise.

A forum on election redistricting held Jan. 18 at UNC Wilmington explored the problem.

“There are a lot of Americans that are disillusioned,” said Tom Ross, president of the Volcker Alliance, which seeks to advance effective governance, and former president of the UNC system.

He said gerrymandering contributes to voter apathy and low turnout. If you’re a Democrat in a Republican district or vice versa, you might see little point in voting. And it encourages politicians to cater only to their base.

Having elections in which the outcome has not effectively already been determined is not just a right, it’s needed for a representative government to properly function. Today’s extreme gerrymandering, in which computers predict voting patterns down to the block, is crippling our ability to govern ourselves, as election outcomes increasingly are disconnected from the actual will of the people.

And it’s not just in North Carolina, where state Rep. David Lewis defended a partisan map because “electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats.” (That’s how a state that elected a Democrat governor easily sent Republicans to Congress from 10 of our 13 districts.)

Courts have rejected Republican maps in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and a Democrat-drawn map in Maryland. Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court are mounting.

We want to make this absolutely clear — this issue has nothing to do with the legitimate policies of any party. This is not about what specific policies we are for or against. We support a marketplace of diverse ideas. That is why we daily publish opinions from completely opposite sides of the political spectrum.

We want to see ideas from all sides on the table. And, call us naive, we adamantly believe that a majority of our fellow citizens will then — through their elected representatives — seek what is best for our nation.

But remember, we are not a direct democracy; we are a republic — meaning governance is a “public affair” — with representative democracies that are instructed by federal and state constitutions.

This passage, attributed to “The Cyclopedia of Political, Constitutional, Statistical and Forensic Knowledge,” is quite clear: “The primary positions of power within a republic are not inherited, but are attained through elections expressing the consent of the governed. Such leadership positions are therefore expected to fairly represent the citizen body.”

Say it out loud: “Such leadership positions are therefore expected to fairly represent the citizen body.”

Through their Declaration of Independence, the Founders made it clear that we have “certain unalienable Rights.” Furthermore, governments formed to protect those rights get their “just powers” from one source: “the consent of the governed.”

On a practical level, gerrymandering births government dysfunction. But worse — and this is what makes it so despicable — millions of voters no longer get to legitimately participate in the “consent of the governed” that our very founding document cherishes.

This most un-American of practices must end.

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