A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, reform advocates and citizens gathered at the legislature on Tuesday to call for changes to how congressional and legislative voting maps are drawn in North Carolina.
Organized by the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying & Government Reform, the group urged the N.C. Senate to approve H824 (“Nonpartisan Redistricting Process“), which passed the N.C. House last year with bipartisan support, 88-27. Modeled after a system used in Iowa, the bill would take responsibility for drawing voting maps out of the hands of legislators and instead place it with nonpartisan legislative staff.
“It will be a big step forward in moving North Carolina toward a more open, consistent and better-understood redistricting process,” said Judie Burke of the League of Women Voters. “In a democracy, it is the right of the voters to choose their legislators, and not the legislators to choose their voters.”
The U.S. Constitution requires voting maps to be redrawn every 10 years in response to population shifts shown in the latest census. Though designed to ensure fair representation, the process usually proves to be contentious as maps frequently favor the party in control of the legislature. Critics say the result leaves voters with little choice at the polls.
“There’s got to be a better way,” said Bill Cobey, former chairman of the N.C. Republican Party.
For much of the past century, Democrats held the reins of power in the N.C. General Assembly and controlled the redistricting process. That changed after the 2010 elections when Republicans won a majority in both the N.C. House and N.C. Senate, and thus controlled the latest round of redistricting.
“We have had Democratic abuse and Republican abuse,” said Gene Nichol, a professor at the UNC School of Law. “Thankfully, no one knows with absolute certitude who will control these varied levers in a decade. Now is the time to fix the process, to fix it in the name of the people of North Carolina.”
A survey this month from Public Policy Polling found 47 percent of North Carolina voters in favor of removing redistricting power from lawmakers and giving it to an independent body, with 27 percent opposed and 26 percent unsure.
However, during a press conference on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) expressed doubt that redistricting reform would pass his chamber during this year’s session, citing ongoing litigation over maps drawn by the Republican majority last year.
In 2009, when the GOP was in the minority and with a new round of redistricting approaching, Berger was among several Republicans that supported a bill creating an independent redistricting commission. That bill never came up for a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate.