The holy grail of redistricting reform

The time is now for our state and country to implement strategic redistricting reform measures. The growing and impactful trend of creating independent redistricting commissions to draw voting maps in an unbiased manner could be the holy grail of redistricting reform and can serve as a guide to achieving a more democratic process.

Why America Needs Redistricting Reform

The people’s vote is a fundamental, legitimate and democratic right that is firmly rooted in the foundation of this nation. However, the redistricting of states to garner party advantage has jeopardized this liberty and has had drastic, negative impacts, like diluting voter strength and resulting in serious discrimination offenses in recent years.

Gerrymandering has been an effective and unethical political tactic used across the political aisle. What results from this is communities being torn apart and politicians being unresponsive to their constituents.

Redistricting reform is in high demand and with the devastating examples across states of racial and partisan gerrymandering, some mechanism is clearly needed to be put in place.

Independent Redistricting Commissions Serve a Vital Role

Independent redistricting commissions have been a device that has been introduced in a variety of states that has the potential to yield the most democratic results in drawing voting districts.

Already, 23 states across the nation have legislation proposing this type of redistricting reform. Currently, 12 states have ones up for debate and are pending, 11 states who proposed them have failed.

These types of commissions serve as a neutral, nonpartisan group to draw and implement redistricting maps to benefit voters and give them a voice again in choosing their representatives.

Most states have developed criteria for drawing the maps that are included in these bills, like minority representation, equal population, contiguous territory, political competitiveness, and compactness.

What is also interesting is that seven states mention incumbency protection in the criteria for drawing their maps, which only serves to continuously undermine the voters’ voice. It should also be noted that there are still 27 states that have no bills up for debate. This only underscores the need for independent redistricting commissions and even more redistricting reform.

The Landscape of North Carolina

North Carolina has had an interesting past with the subject of redistricting, including a number of gerrymandering offenses. However, there is growing support for reform among citizens, the business community and political leaders across the state.

House Bill 200, which has bipartisan support among Republican and Democratic lawmakers, would create a nonpartisan redistricting process for North Carolina.

Another bill proposed by Democratic Rep. Joe John would establish a constitutional amendment to create a seven-member commission that adopts both legislative and congressional districts. It says that the commission should not consider the political affiliation of voters, previous voting data, location of incumbent residencies, and data or demographics from sources other than the U.S. Census Bureau.

A measure introduced by Republican Rep. John Blust also proposes an amendment. However, it creates a nine-member commission that would also adopt both legislative and congressional plans, but would redistrict via computer software programs utilizing politically neutral data.

Each of these plans have the potential to bring North Carolina’s redistricting system in greater alignment with democratic values and respect the voice of voters. However, even with broad support among the public, legislative leaders have so far prevented any of these plans from getting a vote, or even a hearing.

A Call to Action

Redistricting reform is evidently needed now more than ever, and independent redistricting commissions are a great step in improving the process.

We need to voice our opinion to our legislators that we will not stand for this undemocratic system any longer. It is time for our politicians to stop choosing our representatives and return that constitutional right to the people.

Annaleigh Mills is a senior at NC State University majoring in political science and a fall 2017 intern with Common Cause North Carolina.

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