Ending rigged elections

Published February 3, 2022

By Tom Campbell

There was a time – admittedly years ago – when North Carolinians would have risen in loud, unified protests over rigged elections. That’s obviously not true today. Even when a bipartisan panel of judges admitted that the district maps drawn by our legislature are gerrymandered, essentially rigged so as to elect more Republicans, there aren’t many protests from rank-and-file North Carolinians.
Either our populous doesn’t know what is being done, doesn’t care, or is so jaundiced with politicians and government that they have just withdrawn. When people distrust the process, when they believe the game is rigged and their vote doesn’t matter, democracy is severely threatened, resulting in government becoming even more unrepresentative. It’s a vicious cycle.
North Carolina is considered among the top four states in the nation in partisan gerrymandering. In the 2020 presidential election Donald Trump won 50 percent of the vote and Biden won 49 percent here. Analysts, even ones on the right, agree that if congressional elections were held using the current maps, at least 10 of our 14 congressional districts would elect Republicans and that no more than one of them would be a person of color. It won’t come close to reflecting the votes of the people.
 Here’s how it was done: Democrats have been packed into tiny blue districts around major cities, then the remainder have been dispersed across Republican dominated districts so as to dilute their voting strength. For instance, Charlotte is stuffed into one district while Raleigh, Durham and Cary are divided into two. But Greensboro is split among three districts, thus watering down the influence of Democrats. The same approach holds true for legislative districts.
In response to the frequent refrain sure to rise, there’s no denying that Democrats gerrymandered district maps when they were the majority party in the legislature, however not to the same extent because the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) forced them to be more accountable. The guts of that VRA legislation were stripped away in 2013 by the US Supreme Court, because the formulas used to determine which districts needed pre-clearance before changes could be made were outdated. A rash of voter suppression efforts ensued.
As an aside, let me say I have a long history in opposition to gerrymandering, whether drawn by Republicans or Democrats. I stand unashamedly for fair, competitive voting districts. Let the candidate with the best ideas prevail, regardless of party, sex, race or place of residency.
This week the NC Supreme Court began hearing plaintiffs begging that the new maps be redrawn. Previously, maps have been thrown out primarily because of racial prejudice. Lawmakers claim they drew the new maps without race in mind, a point highly questionable. Anyone smart enough to draw district maps is also attuned enough to know the racial and partisan makeup of the population in those districts.  The case is highly time sensitive because primary elections are scheduled to be held May 17th and candidates need ample time to file, organize campaigns and take their case to voters.
Here’s my spin on how the Supremes will rule. There are 4 Democrats and 3 Republicans on the highest court. Many speculate the verdict will come down along party lines. I’m not so sure. There will likely be little argument among the 7 that the maps are partisan. The question is whether they are unconstitutional. Plaintiffs must do a better job in making their case than they did with the three-judge panel, showing that in addition to being unfair, they disadvantage minority voters and violate the whole-county mandate of our Constitution. If they can effectively argue those points, there is a chance they will get a verdict throwing out the maps.
If the maps are overturned, I hope our justices will following the example of Virginia. There the Supreme Court ruled the maps unconstitutional and picked two experts - one from each party – to come up with maps that were more representative and fairer. The results have received praise and criticism from both parties, a signal they must be fairer.  
Legislators picking voters instead of voters picking their representatives has gone too far and needs to change. This court has the opportunity to once-and-for-all declare that history doesn’t need to repeat itself and there must be a better way to draw districts. If they do so, the Newby court will have a revered place in our state’s history. It’s time to end rigged elections.