Creating fairer districts

May. 11, 2014 @ 05:03 PM

Floyd McKissick is a fine state senator. Paul Luebke and Larry Hall are fine state representatives.

We are glad all three will continue to represent Durham County in the General Assembly next year.

But the political process would be better served if we weren’t so sure in May that they will triumph in the Nov. 7 election.  Theirs are among the nearly half of the seats in the state legislature in which only one candidate has filed for election. 

A key reason so many seats are uncontested – and only a couple dozen seats across the state are seriously contested – is that legislative districts are drawn to give one party or the other a significant advantage.

In the redistricting that followed the 2010 census, the GOP-controlled legislature drew districts to stack the odds for Republicans in a majority of districts. But in prior years, Democrats when they controlled the General Assembly were just as likely to gerrymander to concentrate their electoral power.

For years, many have clamored for reducing the impact of such raw partisan politics in drawing legislative – and congressional – districts. Not surprisingly, the strongest have come from the party out of power.

Now an influential Democrat and staunch Republican have joined behind nonpartisan redistricting.  Charles Meeker, a Democrat and former long-time mayor of Raleigh, and Richard Vinroot, a Republican who has been mayor of Charlotte and a gubernatorial candidate, held a press conference to back North Carolinians to End Gerrymandering Now, which wants a nonpartisan commission to redraw electoral districts.

“Ending gerrymandering will ensure that no party out of power is marginalized without a voice,”
Vinroot said. “Taking the politics out of the process will be an insurance policy for both parties.”

Meeker argued, “North Carolina can create a 21st-century redistricting process that creates fair districts that are compact and competitive.”

Gerrymandering isn’t the only reason races may be uncompetitive, of course. “Some of it is driven by the strength of an incumbent,” Matt Bales, research director of the N. C. Free Enterprise Foundation, pointed out to WRAL in January.

And state Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett Republican who helped draw the current districts, noted to WRAL that “many of the constituents in our stare are pleased with the representation the have and don’t feel the need to file to replace their current member of the House or Senate.”

Still, there is no doubt that in many districts, voters won’t get to choose their representative because the representatives have chosen their voters.

But as John Hood, head of the conservative John Locke Foundation, argued in a column three years ago, there is a practical as well as a philosophical reason Republicans in charge should favor non-partisan redistricting – who knows which party will be in control the next time districts are drawn?

“So think of redistricting reform as an insurance policy,” Hood wrote. “It may cost you a bit up front, but it can protect you against catastrophic loss in the future.”

It’s an insurance policy for which both parties should sign up.