North Carolina House Democrats are pushing to end the dark art of gerrymandering with a proposal that has lofty goals but long odds in the GOP-controlled legislature.
House Bill 437, or the Fair Maps Act, seeks to amend the state constitution by stripping the power of congressional and legislative redistricting from politicians while transferring the responsibility to an independent redistricting commission.
Under the proposal, a 15-member commission comprised of an equal number of Democrats, Republicans, and independents would hold at least 20 public hearings to allow the public to participate in the drawing of district lines. The legislature would have no say in the finalized map.
Adoption of district lines also would require the vote of at least nine members, including the support of at least three members from each of the body’s subgroups (Republican, Democrat, and independent).
Although two of the legislature’s most influential Republicans—Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore—both sponsored bills more than a decade ago to create a redistricting commission, those bills were filed when Democrats controlled the legislature. Whether the current Republican majority in the General Assembly will support an independent commission now is an open question.
All of the bill’s 26 cosponsors are Democrats, many of whom posted videos on Twitter this week pitching the bill.
House Democratic Leader Robert Reives of Chatham County says the legislation is intended to allow citizens the power to choose their elected officials—not the other way around.
“Good government is where our citizens choose their elected representatives and, right now, the reverse is happening,” Reives says. “With the system we have, our elected officials are choosing what your district looks like, who represents you, and you don’t have a voice.”
Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County says she supported independent redistricting even when Democrats controlled the redistricting process.
“We have suffered some very gerrymandered districts over the decades—some drawn by my party, some drawn by the current party in charge,” Harrison says. “And it’s gotten worse as the technology has made it easier to specifically gerrymander.”
Rep. Grier Martin of Raleigh says an independent commission counters a politician’s natural impulse to do what’s necessary to stay in office.
“The temptation for legislators to draw themselves and their friends favorable districts—not taking into account what’s best for the voters but instead making decisions based on what’s best for us politicians—creates too great a conflict of interest,” Martin says. “We need a better way.”
Twenty-one states have adopted some form of independent commissions for congressional and/or legislative redistricting, some of which were approved by voters through ballot measures.
If approved by the General Assembly, the proposed amendment would go before voters as a ballot measure in 2022—or after the legislature plans to begin the 2021 redistricting process.
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