It’s Time for NC Voters to Pick their Politicians, not the Other Way Around


Matt Peljovich (PPS ‘24)

Matt Peljovich (PPS ‘24)

When politicians are able to choose who votes for them, let’s call it what it is: corruption. NC needs to adopt an independent body to draw legislative lines, because NC voters should pick their representatives, not the other way around.

Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican (or anywhere in between), we can all agree that many politicians do not act with their constituents in mind. Most of them have two goals: keep themself in power and keep their party in power.

However, a strong democracy can ensure that politicians have to act with their constituents in mind if they want to win reelection. At the end of the day, they have to go back to their districts and convince the voters that they deserve another term in the State House. But politicians don’t like this. Rather than having to be accountable to their voters, they much prefer to hand-select the people that get to vote for them. This is often called ‘gerrymandering.’

How do they do this? It’s simple, they get to draw their own districts. They get to precisely chop up cities, towns, and even neighborhoods to ensure that their supporters make up a majority of their constituency. Imagine you are up for a performance review at your job. Normally, your manager will act as the reviewer. You would never get to hand-pick specific coworkers to judge you, because you would just pick colleagues that you know would support you. While you don’t have this luxury, NC Legislators do.

For decades, NC politicians have used this corruption to ignore the will of the voters. When Democrats controlled the General Assembly in the 90s and 00s, the Federal Department of Justice mandated that they include two districts where Black NC voters made up the majority. In order to comply with this requirement and ensure that the maps favored themselves, Democrats.

drew the infamous 12th district, which stretched all the way from Durham to Greensboro to Charlotte.

Pictured above: the old winding 12th district highlighted in yellow.

Today, with Republicans making up a slim majority of NC, they have used their power to create supermajorities in the legislature. Despite only winning 50.5% of the vote in the 2022 Senate race (the most recent statewide election), Republicans drew a Congressional map that would give them over 70% of the seats. The NC Supreme Court had to step in and strike down this map and institute fair ones. But Conservative justices won a majority on the court in 2022, and they have signaled their willingness to allow the Republican legislature to draw any maps they wish. NC Republicans have also appealed the original NC Supreme Court decision to the US Supreme Court in Moore v. Harper, arguing that only the state legislature, not state courts, have any say over redistricting. If SCOTUS agrees, then there will be no check on the legislature’s power.

So, if we cannot trust the legislature or the courts to protect fair elections, then we must give the power back to the people to draw legislative maps.

How can we do this? Take Michigan, for example, another swing state with a nasty history of gerrymandering. Voters there were able to implement an ‘independent redistricting commission.’ Civically-minded citizens can apply to serve on the commission, and the Secretary of State picks a large pool of qualified applicants. Then, both parties can strike a certain number of candidates to remove the most biased individuals, like jury selection. Finally, an equal number of Democratic, Republican, and independent citizens are randomly selected from the pool to serve on the commission, and that group worked together to draw fair and competitive districts in 2020. In 2022, Democrats won seven out of thirteen seats, which very closely matches their majority wins in recent statewide elections.

Because they benefit from the status quo, NC politicians are certain to resist this change. It is going to take a movement of the people to enact change. If you don’t want politicians to draw their own districts, call your state legislators and tell them to support the Fair Maps Act, a bill to create a ballot initiative that would implement an independent commission in NC. Tell your representatives that the voters should have a chance to decide this issue.

Let’s make NC a beacon of democracy, not a home for corruption.

Matt Peljovich is from Needham, MA and an Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.