Partisan redistricting lets politicians pick their voters

The last time the state General Assembly tried to come up with a redistricting plan, the state Supreme Court had to do if for them. That could happen again.

When the Republicans were in the minority, they proposed that an independent non-partisan group handle redistricting and the Democrats rebuffed the effort. Now the party roles and positions are reversed. What remains constant is that third parties and unaffiliated voters will probably still be left out of the process.

Having Democrats and Republicans draw up the new districts is like playing a Duke-Carolina football game where the players act as referees. “We’ve seen the ugly result when politicians get to draw their own districts,” said Libertarian state chair Barbara Howe. “Let someone who knows the game but doesn’t have any players on the field sort it out.”

Howe said she believes an independent group can draw new General Assembly districts that will limit splitting counties and also meet U.S. Department of Justice guidelines. Mike Smith, a Davidson County libertarian did just that in 2002, but the plan wasn’t even looked at by legislators.

Smith’s plan then focused on population, compactness and followed recognizable boundaries. He said then that he believed most voters were more interested in simplicity and uniformity than in trying to ensure that each district has roughly the same number of people in it.

“By sticking to county lines, our plan will put voters with similar interests together and increase the number of candidates they can choose from,” said Howe. “More voters would participate in elections if their representation was determined for their benefit, instead of for the sole benefit of incumbent politicians.”

When political parties draw up the districts, you in effect have a system where elected officials pick the voters rather than voters picking the elected officials. That is the exact opposite of what the founders of our nation intended.

“Electoral gerrymanders aren’t just opportunities for political mischief,” said John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation. “They do real damage to self-government. When counties, municipalities, and other geographical communities are shredded into bits of thread and stitched into weird paisley designs on a map, it robs voters of basic information – who represents me? – and makes it harder to ensure effective legislative representation.”

The Locke Foundation and the N.C. Center for Government and Lobbying Reform favor an independent redistricting commission. But Hood said he believes the rules used for redistricting are more important that the process of redistricting.

He proposes that the two parties commit themselves to neutral, binding constraints such as compactness and respecting jurisdictional lines. Once the rules are in place, they should prepare and vote on the maps early in the legislative session. Finally, they should put these rules into a state constitutional amendment and submit it to the voters in 2012.