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The Daily Tar Heel

54 NC legislators remain unchallenged in primaries

Forty-one state House districts and 13 state Senate districts will have only one legislator on the ballot.

These uncontested elections are a direct result of gerrymandering, according to Common Cause North Carolina, a grass-roots organization that advocates for government accountability.

Bob Phillips, the organization’s executive director, said the majority party draws districts to maintain an advantage in the legislature.

“The party in power wins so decisively that the opposing party is marginalized to irrelevancy,” Phillips said. “And yet that is not reflecting where North Carolina truly is — a very evenly politically divided state that is very competitive.”

Phillips said after primaries an additional 18 candidates will have no further competition, meaning 72 of 170 seats in the N.C. General Assembly will be uncontested in the general election.

“That’s not healthy for democracy,” he said. “It basically disenfranchises the people who live in all those districts in that they don’t have a vote that matters in these legislative races.”

Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, and Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, are two co-sponsors of a bill in the N.C. House of Representatives to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission.

Candidates who run unopposed in partisan districts are less likely to be effective legislators as they do not have to build a bipartisan coalition of voters, Martin said.

“When we’ve got a system set up to elect folks who don’t need to build consensus, we shouldn’t be surprised when they show up to do their work in Washington or Raleigh and don’t compromise and don’t come to agreements to make government work,” he said.

Efforts to protect incumbents have led to greater partisan gridlock, McGrady said.

“I think it’s resulted in a more conservative Republican Party and more liberal Democratic Party and has really done away with the middle in the political spectrum,” he said.

If signed into law, the bill would take effect before the next redistricting in 2021.

McGrady said the Republican majority would need to feel threatened by a Democratic takeover before they decide to support nonpartisan redistricting.

“I frankly don’t expect that the bill will see the light of day right now,” McGrady said. “I think the real possibility of passing legislation is going to come just before redistricting occurs, and at a point in time perhaps when Republicans aren’t sure whether they’ll be in a majority again.”

But Martin is hopeful the legislature will take action during its current short session.

“In the end, it’s a cliche, but we want voters to choose their legislators — not the legislators to choose their voters,” he said.

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