September 27, 2019; Washington Post
Once again, North Carolina has become ground zero for voting rights. The issue is partisan gerrymandering, and we have been here before.
Many had hoped that the US Supreme Court would settle this issue last spring, but as NPQ wrote in June 2019, “In the two combined cases of gerrymandering, one in North Carolina and one in Maryland, one brought by Democrats and one brought by Republicans, the 5-to-4 decision said that federal courts cannot make determinations in partisan gerrymandering cases—a decision that says basically, ‘Nope, we don’t do these cases.’” Which brings us to today’s fight, and a lawsuit filed in North Carolina state court last week by the National Redistricting Foundation. Led by former US attorney general Eric Holder Jr., the foundation is a nonprofit affiliate of a political committee, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
Holder and his organization had their hopes raised by a North Carolina state court decision on September 3rd. The three-judge panel ruled that maps drawn by the Republican legislature violated the state constitution through “extreme partisan gerrymandering” and would have to be immediately redrawn. “The 2017 Enacted Maps, as drawn, do not permit voters to freely choose their representative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based upon sophisticated partisan sorting,” the ruling states. With this case as backup, Holder is going after the entire map, as it seems the Republican legislature’s redraw has done little to move district lines toward the fair representation earlier lawsuits sought.
The suit cites “partisan advantage” as the key objective of how districts are drawn, saying the map “meticulously packs and cracks Democratic voters in each and every district—without exception.” NPQ explored the concepts of “packing and cracking” in a 2017 article on gerrymandering. Here, “cracking” is defined as dividing registered voters of one party among several districts to dilute their voting power. “Packing” is when voters get grouped into a single district to reduce their voting power in neighboring districts. According to the current lawsuit, North Carolina has perfected this process to the point where students living in the same dorm but across the hall are in different districts.
The key issue with this lawsuit may be speed. The hope for the National Redistricting Foundation is to have the matter settled before the 2020 election. With North Carolina congressional primary deadlines in mid-December of 2019, there is little time for the courts to act and apply a remedy. It’s possible the courts might delay the primary, but doing so would require cooperation from two sides that have a history of very little. Still, one never knows; moving a state like North Carolina from being the exemplar for partisan gerrymandering to being the star for nonpartisan redistricting has its attractions—especially for those who believe in maintaining effective voting rights.—Carole Levine