Blue says independent redistricting commission a must by 2020By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Contributor / December 16, 2016
Saying that “people need relief from this… runaway government as soon as possible,” state Senator Dan Blue [D-Wake], the Senate Minority leader, says he’s in favor of establishing an independent redistricting commission by 2020 so that the partisan advantage that the party in power always seeks in redrawing the voting districts is removed, and North Carolina begins to have more competitive elections for both the state legislature, and Congress.
“And it needs to be in such a way that the people representing all of us are elected in a constitutional manner,” Sen. Blue maintained.
Currently, because Republicans won a majority of seats in the state House and Senate in 2010, they were able to draw the redistricting maps for the legislature and Congress which were supposed to govern elections for the balance of the decade until 2020.
However, earlier this year, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the 2011 redistricting maps were unconstitutional because Republicans “staked and packed” African Americans into just a few voting districts, denying them their right to influence elections in other districts, otherwise known as racial gerrymandering.
“You have to believe that somewhere [the Republican legislative leadership] got in their mind that anything is fair as long as it keeps them in power,” Sen. Blue said. Earlier this week, Blue held a press conference at the start of the Special Session for disaster relief, warning the GOP not to even consider adding two more seats to the N.C. Supreme Court just to offset the election victory of Democrat Justice-elect Mike Morgan, which had been heavily rumored.
The federal appeals court allowed the gerrymandered legislative maps to be used for the 2016 general elections, but just recently ordered that state lawmakers, when they return for the long session in January, must redraw the voting districts constitutionally by March 2017, and then once they’re approved by the appellate court, hold special election primaries either at the end of August 2017, or the beginning of September, and then special legislative elections in November 2017.
Interestingly, whoever is elected then, will have to run for re-election, as they normally would, in November 2018.
Republican leaders are appealing that special election ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorneys for the NCGOP have already gone before the U.S. High Court recently appealing the appellate court’s striking down of their 2011 congressional districts, which produced 10 Republican representatives, and only three Democrats – two of them Black from minority-majority districts.
It is because the Republicans are expected to still try to redraw the unconstitutional districts in a way that is most favorable to them, despite the federal court order, that Blue says ultimately that task, in the future should fall to a nonpartisan commission that, as in other states, routinely draw districts that are much more competitive electorally than in North Carolina.
“[The Republicans] know that this time, they know that a federal court is looking over their shoulders [when they try to redraw the districts in 2017], says Sen. Blue, adding that with the state Supreme Court now having a Democratic majority, they also know that it’s least likely another unconstitutional map will be upheld by the state High Court either.
“The only way that you’re going to eventually get a system that does not [employ] political gerrymandering or racial gerrymandering…, the only way you’re going to move away from that is by an independent redistricting commission,” Blue said. “If these guys agreed to do it, I would join in with them immediately, but I don’t have any belief that they would do it.”
“So until we can get to that point, it’s comforting to know that a federal court is looking over their shoulders so that if they try to cut too many corners, the court can reel them back in, or the court itself can draw the districts. All the court has to do is give them the chance to do it the right way.”
Various nonpartisan groups, like Common Cause N.C., have been calling for an independent redistricting commission for years, saying that voters should be choosing their elected officials, instead of the current practice of elected officials choosing their voters by drawing districts that virtually eliminates the possibility of losing an election.
In 2015, two pieces of legislation from a bipartisan group of state lawmakers seeking a new redistricting process had been introduced in the N.C. General Assembly, but ultimately went nowhere because Republicans did not schedule them for committees.