September 5, 2018; New York Times and Governing
After a very brief victory celebration over two wins in federal courts that pointed to racial gerrymandering (covered by NPQ in May 2017) and partisan gerrymandering (covered earlier this week by NPQ) in North Carolina, unhappy Democrats reluctantly agreed with the federal court, which ruled that the map drawn by and favoring Republicans would be used in the November 2018 elections.
The court’s reasoning, laid out in a four-page order, was that the rapidly approaching deadline (ballots need to be mailed to service personnel and others overseas by September 22nd) and the short time remaining to adapt to the newly drawn districts would lead to confusion and suppress voter participation:
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We conclude that there is insufficient time for this Court to approve a new districting plan and for the State to conduct an election using that plan prior to the seating of the new Congress in January 2019. And we further find that imposing a new schedule for North Carolina’s congressional elections would, at this late juncture, unduly interfere with the State’s electoral machinery and likely confuse voters and depress turnout.
The plaintiffs in this suit, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters Chapters of North Carolina, put voting participation ahead of changing the partisan nature of voting districts in the state. The rulings and the attention paid to these cases have brought more eyes to November’s races. In the gerrymandered districts, Democrats presently hold just three of the 13 House of Representative seats, but they’re running competitively in at least three Republican-held seats across the state. In short, North Carolina’s congressional delegation could still change, even if the district lines do not.
In the end, the court has made clear this will be the last election using these partisan districts. Making sure voters could get to the polls and vote took priority over doing what the courts initially determined was “right” in drawing districts that more fairly represent all the voters of North Carolina. Those North Carolina voters can demonstrate they understand the importance of these three decisions on gerrymandering in their state by turning out to vote in large numbers, laying the groundwork for the new, nonpartisan districts to come. Could anything be more patriotic—or democratic?—Carole Levine