LAURINBURG — The leader of a nonpartisan government reform group was in Laurinburg this week to talk about how to end gerrymandering in the state.
Jane Pinsky, director of the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, is urging the state to develop a plan to draw up congressional and legislative voting maps through a nonpartisan legislative staff rather than by lawmakers. The proposed change would come after the 2020 Census.
“For decades, North Carolina has been among the most gerrymandered states in the nation and its current voting maps continue to face challenges in court,” Pinsky said. “However, a growing number of Republicans and Democrats agree that North Carolina needs to take partisan politics out of the way voting maps are drawn.”
The coalition has recommended that public hearings be conducted by a citizen advisory panel before and after the maps are drawn and the General Assembly would have 14 days to vote the plans up or down.
Under the proposal, districts cannot be drawn to dilute or augment the voting strength of a minority group; and maps cannot favor a political party or incumbent.
The districts would also have to be compact and contiguous.
Pinsky said the current process of drawing district maps skews the democratic process. Under the 2011 maps drawn by the legislature, Republicans control 10 of the 13 congressional seats.
“North Carolina has had this long history of favoring whichever party was in power and that can take away voices from citizens because if you are in a district where only one political party wins, your vote may not count,” Pinsky said. “Citizens benefit from elected officials that have to go out and talk to them and answer questions and when you don’t have competition none of that happens.”
Pinsky added that partisan redistricting creates districts designed to elect party extremists.
“They can’t compromise,” she said. “If we had nonpartisan redistricting, we think we could get districts that better represented the people and were not drawn to one political extreme or the other.”
Pinsky said the plan has strong support in the North Carolina state House, including Rep. Garland Pierce who invited Pinsky to Laurinburg on Monday to discuss the issue. The proposal has less support in the Republican-led state Senate.
“The votes are clearly there in the House,” Pinsky said. “Gov. Pat McCory wants it, Roy Cooper wants it and 65 to 70 percent of North Carolinians support reform. There are just a few people holding out.”
Scotland County Clerk of Court Phillip McRae, who took part in the discussion, said Republicans were for reforms when Democrats controlled the General Assembly. In fact, in the 1990s, it was conservatives who sued over the congressional maps drawn by Democrats, arguing that Democratic lawmakers had divided voters by race in violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
“The Republicans look at it like the Democrats have been doing onto us for so long now we’re going to do onto y’all a little a while.”
Pinsky said a nonpartisan approach might keep redistricting efforts by Republicans or Democrats out of court.
The N.C. Supreme Court ruled last year that the latest redistricting effort was legal, but the U.S. Supreme Court tossed the case back to the N.C. Supreme Court, saying it must reconsider whether lawmakers relied too heavily on race.
“We’ve spent $3 or $4 million so far on legal fees,” she said. “That money could have been better spent on teachers or roads, health care or libraries.
Scott Witten can be reached at 910-506-3023
Reach Scott Witten at 910-506-3023