We need commissions for redistricting


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin


This year was supposed to be the year when all the voter suppression efforts put in place by Republican policymakers came into effect.

This would be the first year that the new voter ID requirements went into effect, and it would be the second presidential election in which North Carolina was divided into the districts approved by Republican lawmakers.

Thankfully, some of this seems to be unraveling, at least for the moment. While the battle over the voter ID laws is still awaiting decision, a federal court has already struck down the districts approved by Republicans in 2010.

In the decision from the three-judge panel, Judge Roger Gregory said what has been obvious to most observers for some time: that North Carolina’s districts were drawn in ways that packed black voters into one district to minimize their voting power.

The court held the districts unconstitutional as “racial gerrymanders,” and ordered the legislature to put new district maps in place prior to the March 15 primaries.

Of course, there is always the chance that such a decision will be appealed, but for moment it is satisfying to see justice be done.

For years, observers have pointed to some of North Carolina’s oddly shaped districts as evidence of gerrymandering. North Carolina has three of the top 10 most gerrymandered districts in the nation, according to a 2014 Washington Post analysis.

The ruling is an important step, but it does not solve the real problem. Even with this ruling, the legislature will still have the job of redrawing districts.

Instead, we should work toward a system where political interests are taken out of this process. Voting, and especially the ability of citizens to have a meaningful effect on elections, is too important to be left to politicians.

Winning elections gives parties control over many things, but the fundamental right to vote should not be one of them.

Among the alternatives to the current system, the best option would be some form of independent commission that is responsible for drawing the new maps.

Six states have some form of commission for redistricting. While North Carolina was working hard to hold the title of most gerrymandered state in the nation, California was doing something different when it established a voting commission which consisted of Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters who were to decide the district.

No scheme is perfect, but the one in California has apparently worked pretty well. A 2013 report by the League of Women Voters found that, while time constraints and limited resources were an issue, the process was more fair and transparent overall.

Of course, North Carolina will not likely adopt such a system, at least anytime soon. California’s system came about through that state’s initiative process, something our state does not have.

And I don’t see this general assembly, or even a more Democratic general assembly, moving in that direction.

That is, however, the direction we should be heading in. Drawing districts that satisfy the legal and social requirements is hard and there will likely be problems with whatever system we institute. In any case, voters will have recourse to the courts to settle controversies.

With that said, an independent commission marks a necessary shift in the way we draw districts.

Redistricting should not just be subject to the whims of politicians who have interests in the stakes. It should be about ensuring equality of representation and voter power, and independent commissions offer us a better way to achieve those goals.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is the Opinion Editor.