Citizens are speaking up to legislators. Adopt non-partisan redistricting now

Published September 23, 2021


The General Assembly’s just completed the eighth of 13 public hearings it is conducting around the state concerning the way North Carolina’s congressional and legislative voting districts will be drawn.

To anyone who’s attended one of the hearings or watched the video replays the legislature’s posting online AFTER they’ve been completed, the scores of people testifying are sending a very clear message.

The way they’ve done things in the past has been a mess and left hundreds of thousands of citizens without a voice in the U.S. House or the legislature. It needs to change. The time is now.

“I do not think that the legislators should be picking their own voters,” Ann Watson said at the hearing last week at Pitt County Community College.

“We the people want to elect legislators that are loyal to our communities and not to the parties themselves. We want a democracy that is a government of the people, by the people and for the people -- not politicians,” Lori Yoshi Newsman of Greenville said at the same meeting. 

 It is a refrain that is echoed at each of the hearings – and from nearly every citizen testifying. Words of support for the status quo have been few and far between – coming from loyal local Republican officials.

For all the passion of the speakers, the sessions have been a showcase for civil discourse in stark contrast to the bitter, angry and disruptive displays at several recent local boards of education meetings around the state.

But the civility doesn’t mask the frustration and neglect felt by citizens who have been deprived of a voice in Raleigh and Washington.

Phyllis Demko, a League of Women Voters of North Carolina Board member, said she wondered if legislators really did care about hearing from the public. She said there’s been little effort to let the public know about the hearings and little use of online social media to give people easier access to what’s going on.

“Though you may not be interested in what the public has to say, we are vitally interested in what you are doing because we know that what you do now will affect what we do for the next 10 years,” Demko said during the hearing last week at Alamance Community College.

“In 2019 a state court required you to do remedial maps in full public view. That is certainly something that means more than what you indicated you’re going to do. We want you to make your final decisions public, not do as you recently did with the criteria and the hearing schedule, where there was absolutely no discussion. It made us feel that you had already decided it behind closed doors and then came out with the criteria.”

The desire for a partisan advantage, speakers said, splits communities and leaves them voiceless. “The redistricting of the past has slashed our city to pieces, said Don McKinnon of High Point during the Alamance County hearing. “Districts will be more compact because voters will be closer to their representatives.”

One of the most consistent refrains has been a call for non-partisan redistricting.

“We want to see a process that does not consider partisan data -- like voter registration levels or voting histories or an incumbent’s places of residence,” Cindy Elmore of Greenville said at the Pitt County hearing.

“We’re tired of the gerrymandering that no one can pretend hasn’t happened in this state. We’re tired of the millions of dollars of our tax dollars, our money, being spent on the cost of defending indefensible partisan gerrymandered maps. And we’re tired of the justification always being: ‘Oh, the other side did it first,’ which is what children say. …

“We’re tired that people pretend that we don’t have the computerized data technologies that make it pretty easy to draw maps that for the most part could follow contiguous, compact boundaries that put people together with the same geographic and municipal interests. That’s all anybody wants. And it isn’t that hard to do. And lastly we’re tired that North Carolina has become the country’s poster child for partisan gerrymandering.”

Chris Malone, a Guilford County resident who said he lives near Jamestown, put it all succinctly. “Districts should be drawn so that candidates and ideas are the drivers in elections, with no influence of how the map is drawn.”

The message being delivered at the hearings is clear – adopt a non-partisan process of setting up congressional and legislative voting districts that protect voters’ interests first – not incumbents or political parties.

If the legislators conducting these hearings are truly listening and want to be responsive, they’ll make it is their first priority to assure a fair, transparent and non-partisan system for redistricting BEFORE they offer up any maps.

That would show legislators haven’t just been hearing but also listening.