Here’s some bad news for fans of and believers in participatory democracy in North Carolina: only one candidate will run for state House or Senate seats in nearly half— or 43 percent— of all of the state’s legislative district races this election cycle.
The reason: gerrymandering.
The candidate filing period closed Monday at noon, and for 72 of the state’s 170 seats, only one name will appear on the ballot this fall, according to a press release from the nonprofit Common Cause, which advocates for nonpartisan redistricting. For forty-one seats in the NC House and 13 in the Senate, only one candidate filed to run; an additional 16 House races and 2 Senate races will be decided in the March primary.
Since 1992, more than 40 percent of the state’s races for seats in the General Assembly have been non-competitive.
“Once again, gerrymandering is undermining the fundamental right of North Carolinians to have a say in who represents them,” said Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “We can’t call ourselves the world’s greatest democracy when so many voters have no choice at the ballot box. We must have an independent process for drawing our voting maps in North Carolina, so that we have fair, competitive elections.”
While more than seventy lawmakers in the state House cosponsored a bill last legislative session that would set up a nonpartisan redistricting commission, the bill was never taken to a vote. Still, Gov. Pat McCrory and his opponent in the 2016 gubernatorial race, Roy Cooper, have publicly opposed gerrymandering, as have former governors Jim Martin and Jim Hunt.
300 mayors and municipal leaders from across the state have called on the General Assembly to enact a fair, impartial, nonpartisan redistricting process, to create more competition among legislative candidates and to increase voter participation.
Former Raleigh Mayor Tom Bradshaw says Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty of putting partisan interests before those of the people, and that people feel like their votes aren’t being counted when they don’t have a choice on the ballot.
“When voters don’t have a choice, they don’t ask questions and issues won’t get discussed,” Bradshaw said. “This is not what we want in North Carolina. It’s not the North Carolina way.”