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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: Redistricting cannot mean gerrymandering


Rep. Jeff Jackson (D-NC 14th) is sworn into the 118th Congress on Jan. 5, 2023. 

Photo Courtesy of Ike Hayman. 

Gerrymander? I hardly know her.

On Nov. 7, North Carolina voters went to the polls for the Chapel Hill and Carrboro municipal elections. While this year's voter turnout was the highest it has been for 10 years in Chapel Hill, next year’s elections may look different. 

In April, North Carolina’s Supreme Court ruled that it had no power to decide on partisan gerrymandering. The majority-GOP bench cleared the way for a similarly Republican legislature to draw up a new U.S. House map; one that is projected to swap the current 7-7 split between the two parties with one which would favor Republicans; giving them 11 seats to a Democratic four. This is not North Carolina’s first encounter with gerrymandering.

After the 1990 census, the North Carolina General Assembly redrew its congressional districts and created a second majority-Black district in the state. This was challenged and in 1993, the landmark Shaw v. Reno case was taken up by the Supreme Court, which ruled against gerrymandering on the basis of race. This ruling has stood since then, despite a possible nullification earlier this year.

In that recent decision, the Supreme Court upheld the protection, ruling that the Voting Rights Act also insured protections against racial gerrymandering. However, this ruling seems to be disregarded in North Carolina. The General Assembly continues to do as it pleases with the state supreme court in tow.

This blatant abuse of power and authority has reared its ugly head, notably with the drawing out of Rep. Jeff Jackson in the most recent congressional maps, now situated in a heavily Republican district. Jackson announced his intention to run for North Carolina Attorney General, and called out the hypocrisy of the General Assembly's actions, insisting that he would fight against corruption once he gains the title of attorney general. 

Rep. Julie von Haefen, a Democrat from Wake County, stated how these new gerrymandered district lines will compromise the true representation of voter interest.

“Representative government depends on stable and fair districts that empower voters to have their voices heard," von Haefen said. "This is how Republicans disenfranchise voters. I am saddened that North Carolina has failed to learn from decades of back-and-forth gerrymandering and is once again in the national spotlight for egregious maps.” 

Gerrymandering is not isolated to one party. Last year in Maryland, a state judge got rid of a map drawn by the Democrats of that state, and last February, the North Carolina Supreme Court got rid of a map drawn by Republicans. Gerrymandering, regardless of the party, is harmful to democracy and the will of voters in the impacted state.

Gerrymandering allows representatives to choose who their voters, which effectively creates a government that is neither by nor for the people. This has detrimental effects on the functioning of our democracy. A 2021 study conducted by the MIT Election Lab consistently found that gerrymandered districts controlled by both political parties produced fewer bills than their non-gerrymandered counterparts.  

Both parties are guilty of wielding their redistricting power to ensure their pension. Districts look less like the natural boundaries of a consistent community, but rather a kid’s erratic doodles on an Etch-A-Sketch. Gerrymandering ensures that politicians can protect themselves from changing demographics and political wills of their constituents, by simply changing their constituents.

Partisan gerrymandering also harms voters because it often comes with other institutional voting barriers that disproportionately target minorities. In 2018, the Republican-majority North Carolina State Legislature passed a bill requiring photo ID for voting and only allowed forms of identification that Black voters disproportionately lack. The law was eerily reminiscent of post-Civil War era voter suppression tactics including literacy tests, strict voter identification laws and poll taxes.

Although the North Carolina Court of Appeals ultimately ruled that this bill could not be enforced due to its disproportionately negative effect on black voters, the bill would not have even passed through the legislature without gerrymandering. 

Minority voter suppression is nothing new. It's gotten more difficult to target voter suppression, and in that way, it's gotten harder to fight

Democratic North Carolina lawmakers, who received a minority of seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate despite winning a majority of the vote for both parts of the legislative branch, introduced a bill intended to improve voting equity. This bill did not make it through the legislature. 

The idea of redistricting, if it were used as a tool to ensure fairness, political efficacy and voter equity, is promising. However, rather than being used in a way that ensures true representation when communities grow, state representatives utilize it to fulfill their own agendas, ensuring that they can continue their flagrant misuse of the power that voters gave them.

@dthopinion |

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