Gerrymandering: What We Must Do
We all believe in one man, one vote. It’s the American belief that each of our votes matters equally in our elections. This ideal is guaranteed by certain granting documents that our Founding Fathers wrote up so many years ago… But what if I told you that perfect idea that we all believe in does not actually work? That our elections are rigged so only one political party can possibly hold power for a long time… Gerrymandering has rigged our elections. Gerrymandering keeps politicians with 10 percent approval ratings in power. Gerrymandering is at the root of many of the problems with our General Assembly in Raleigh. Gerrymandering has robbed us of our democracy. It’s time for we the citizens of our great state of North Carolina to fix this issue before any more damage is done to our democracy.
So what is gerrymandering? Gerrymandering is defined as the dividing of a state or county into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in as many districts as possible while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible. This process ensures that only one party can ever win that district. Gerrymander enough districts and that party keeps control of the government. Most voters don’t talk much about gerrymandering because it is such a technical issue. It’s easy to redraw lines without people ever noticing. It is only when citizens realize that their votes don’t matter that gerrymandering starts to get the attention it deserves. In 2012 North Carolinians went to the polls to vote for our representatives in the United States Congress. North Carolinians voted 51 percent Democrat and 49 percent Republican. Although the actual outcome of the election was 4 Democrats and Nine Republicans. If the districts were fairly drawn the winning candidates would have been 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans, a more representative spread. Currently gerrymandering tilts the scales in favor of Republicans. But Democrats held state government in North Carolina for a century and they too gerrymandered districts to keep their party in power. Both Democrats and Republicans have played this game for decades. That doesn’t make it right.
Gerrymandering has robbed us of our democracy. Because today, instead of the citizens picking who we elect to represent our interests in Raleigh and Washington, politicians and party elders behind closed doors choose who they represent when they draw up these gerrymandered districts. And that’s not alright. Democracy works best when we have our representatives fighting for our vote instead of being unopposed and unbeatable. But do we really care who represents us? When voter turnout in our last elections was so low. We might ask ourselves if low voter turnout is a cause or result of gerrymandering?
Democracy is a battle of ideas. But democracy is only at its best when different ideas, values and viewpoints from all sides of the aisle come together and are debated. Democracy does not function when one half of the aisle is left out. When our representatives in Raleigh and Washington are locked out of democracy, we also lose our say in what happens in Raleigh and Washington as citizens back home. We all lose when gerrymandering is in place.
Without oversight from both parties and vigorous public debate among all, one party can push through laws like North Carolina’s House Bill Two and Voter ID laws which hurt minorities and young people… These laws might still exist if gerrymandering was not so prevalent in our voting districts, but voters would have a better chance of letting their wishes be known in the ballot box following the passage of such contentious new laws. . . For example, despite the outcry over the controversial HB2, few of those state legislators who voted in favor will have to face angry voters in the fall. Their districts are drawn to protect them. More likely it will be Gov. Pat McCrory and possible Sen. Richard Burr, who must run state-wide, who will answer to the voters.
This March, North Carolinians from all across our great state went to the polls to cast their votes in this year’s primaries. But, what you may or may not have noticed was that your vote in the Congressional Primaries did not count. Lawsuits filed after North Carolina’s most recent gerrymandering was ruled illegal by a 3 judge panel court. So new district would need to be drawn up. Your vote does not count because you most likely no longer live in that district you voted for in March. Most likely so does your representative in Congress. Representative Alma Adams now lives two hours away from the closest edge of her district. These new districts have also forced Representative Robert Pittenger into a primary with his fellow Republican candidate George Rouco. For the first time Representative Robert Pittenger has a challenger. But, all this comes with an additional cost to the tax payer of North Carolina, along with a likely lower voter turnout then normal.
Now fellow high school students I’m assuming you can’t vote yet and don’t care about politics, but as Ralph Nader once said: “If you do not turn on to politics, politics will turn on you.” As citizens of our great state of North Carolina we are all affected by the decisions that our representatives make for us even if we don’t vote for them. These decisions can positively and negatively impact us. Let me tell you a story that happened just the other week when the General Assembly called a special session to pass House Bill Two. They did it in one day. Starting in the morning by drafting the legislation, introducing the bill, reading the bill and then by the afternoon attaching amendments, passing the bill first in the House and then the Senate before Governor Pat McCrory, our former mayor signed House Bill Two into law that evening. This partisan push through would not happen if gerrymandering did not exist in our great state of North Carolina.
Gerrymandering is wrong. But, what can we do? Luckily there is a simple solution to this issue. It’s called an Independent Redistricting Commission. An Independent Redistricting Commission draws congressional districts so that districts are fairly split up so one party does not have an advantage over the other party. The Independent Redistricting Commission draws new districts every 10 years after the Census has been conducted, then presents these maps to be voted on by our representatives with a simple yea or nay vote.
Some politicians want to tell you that gerrymander is alright. And that both Democrats and Republicans do it. Which is a very true. But, just because both parties do it does not make it any more right… If anything it makes it even more wrong. Or they will tell you the real issue is the party. That our representatives vote how the party tells them to. Not how we tell them to. Although, this is a smoke screen. Once we remove gerrymandering we will have fair districts where our representatives will be impartial to their constituents, not the party. Because if they aren’t accountable… we will pass them a pink slip.
As North Carolinians, time and time again we have stood up for what is right and just… Let’s tear down these walls that keep our votes from mattering. It’s un-American. It’s un-North Carolinian. I am calling on you to act. Call your State Senator: Bob Rucho. Tell him you are ashamed of his support of gerrymandering, and that you want to keep the clock moving forwards not backwards. Ask him to support an independent redistricting committee. I am calling on you to tell your representative in the United States Congress, Robert Pittenger, that you are ashamed of his support of gerrymandering. Ask him to support an independent redistricting committee. I am calling on you to call your United States Senators: Richard Burr and Thom Tillis and tell them you are ashamed of their support of gerrymandering and that you want to keep the clock moving forwards not backwards. Ask them to support an independent redistricting committee.
Only when gerrymandering has ended can the future of our great state of North Carolina be bright for people to participate in an open democracy.
This article was first published on May 19th, 2016.