In a 4-2 ruling on Friday, the N.C. Supreme Court upheld congressional and legislative voting maps created in 2011 by the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly.
This was the latest in a number of lawsuits over the years related to voting maps designed by whichever party controlled the legislature when the decennial redistricting process arrived. For decades, the Democratic majority faced litigation over the maps it created, as has the Republican majority that more recently came to power.
“Since 1980, there have been nearly three dozen lawsuits surrounding the way our state’s voting maps are drawn,” Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said in the wake of Friday’s court ruling. “Both political parties have used the power of redistricting to craft voting maps that favor their own side, depriving voters of a real choice on Election Day and leading to costly battles in the courts.”
In 2014, nearly half of the state’s 170 legislative races were uncontested, a result that redistricting reform advocates say is due to gerrymandered districts that heavily favor one party or the other.
The average margin of victory for N.C. House candidates with an opponent this year was a staggering 25 percent. State Senate races were only slightly more competitive, with an average margin of victory of 22 percent.
Recently, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory expressed his own concerns about the vast majority of legislative districts lacking competition.
“I think the gerrymandered districts where we have no competition in the general election makes all of our jobs difficult, especially the executive branch,” McCrory told WFAE radio in November. “I have to represent the whole state. Legislators, both Republican and Democrat, tend to now represent a more monolithic population.”
The Republican-led N.C. House passed a measure in 2011 with bipartisan support that would have taken redistricting authority out of the hands of lawmakers and given it to nonpartisan legislative staff. However, that bill stalled in the N.C. Senate.
A poll last year found 70 percent of voters in favor of that reform measure, including 73 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of unaffiliated voters.
“North Carolina’s system of drawing voting maps continues to be highly dysfunctional and deeply partisan,” Phillips said. “Fortunately, North Carolina can enact sensible, bipartisan reform that would make redistricting truly fair and impartial, protecting the right of voters to have a voice in who represents them.”
Reform advocates are hopeful that lawmakers will take up redistricting reform once again when they return for a new session in January.