Common Cause asked candidates for the General Assembly to pledge to support the creation of an independent, nonpartisan redistricting process for Congressional and legislative districts in the 2019 legislative session.
The results are in. I’m proud to say Libertarians had the highest percentage of yes pledges: 33 (of 34) Libertarian candidates said yes; 120 (of 169) Democrats said yes; only 26 (of 170) Republicans said yes. One other Republican responded “Yes-Maybe.” I counted him as a yes. Also, one unaffiliated and one Constitution Party candidate said yes.
Conspicuously absent from the yes pledges, however, are the leaders of the old establishment parties, Republicans Rep. Tim Moore, current House Speaker, Sen. Phil Berger, current Senate president pro tem, and his presumptive Democratic successor Sen. Dan Blue.
For those of you who know how the legislature really works, unless the majority party leaders support on a bill, it won’t go anywhere. And it doesn’t matter what party it is.
Rep. David Lewis, House elections committee chair, who would presumably remain a major voice in that body if Republicans retain control, was openly hostile to the pledge. He responded, “It can’t be done.”
No, it cannot. So long as the establishment parties control the legislature and partisan loyalists chair committees.
That’s why we need alternative party and independent representatives in the General Assembly. We need to break the two-party duopoly that manipulates the rules and conspires to suppress voter choice to maintain their control.
The Common Cause pledge is well-meaning. But it only addresses part of the problem. Ideally, we should take the redistricting process out of the hands of the General Assembly and political parties altogether. But that’s not going to happen as long as the Republicans and Democrats jealously guard their stranglehold on the legislative process, and can ruthlessly put down any challenge to that control. Any reform would have to get past their roadblocks.
Yes, redistricting is a political process. But it does not have to be hyper-partisan. It doesn’t have to be partisan at all. We should minimize the role of political parties in the process. The League of Women Voters Reasonable Redistricting Reform proposal includes one way to do that.
In researching the issue, the LWV determined that any redistricting reform bill would have to include a role for the “major party” legislative leaders to pass. Their proposal for an independent commission, therefore, would have the leaders of the two largest parties in both houses of the state legislature appoint some members. But the majority of appointments would come from a pool of independent citizens, subject-matter experts, and possibly retired judges.
The key to making the entire process truly nonpartisan, independent, and fair is that the maps would become final upon an affirmative vote of the commission. The trade-off is to give the political party leaders the right to appoint commission members, but give the commission the final word on the result.
The overly partisan and secretive manner in which both parties have draw districts, along with our state’s highly restrictive ballot access laws, has eroded faith and confidence in North Carolina’s elections. Letting politicians drew their own district lines is a conflict of interest. Lawmakers effectively select their own constituents.
Preventing new parties and independent candidates from appearing on the ballot restricts the choice for voters also erodes faith and confidence in state elections and results in low voter turnout.
But in 2017, the General Assembly passed a major ballot access reform bill, the impact of which was lost in all the partisan bickering over judicial elections. It removed major barriers for alternative parties and independent candidates. So now, North Carolina has five ballot-qualified parties – Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green, and Constitution.
Now its time to take the next step in restoring confidence in our elections.
People are more likely to vote if they believe their votes will count. They are more likely to vote if they believe they can elect people who represent their interests. When voters have a choice, elected officials are more responsive and accountable to their constituents.
Government should be about people, not politics. We need to change the way government works in North Carolina. Reforming the redistricting process is the place to start.