A call for fair maps from Greensboro

As the years have gone on, state legislatures across the country have heightened their destructive gerrymandering practices.

With calculated precision, maps have been drawn to undercut the political power of minorities, safe-zone incumbents and decrease competitiveness in elections. Lawsuits and court rulings have become commonplace as legislatures have refused to draw fair maps that allow for the equal representation of constituents.

For well over a decade, Common Cause North Carolina has championed efforts to establish a system that puts redistricting power in the hands of a nonpartisan, independent body. The aim of such an effort is to take partisan politics out of the process, which in turn would lead to a more representative legislative body.

House Bill 200 is the most recent legislative effort to establish such an independent commission. Although the bill has bipartisan support from 39 co-sponsors, legislative leaders have blockaded the bill, refusing to give it a fair hearing in the NC House.

As the obstructions of legislative efforts continue, judicial efforts continue to push forward. Such is the case with Common Cause v. Rucho, which will go to trial later this summer at the L. Richardson Preyer Federal Courthouse in Greensboro. In accordance with the pending trial, I was given the opportunity to organize a June 26 press conference outside the Preyer Courthouse.

With such an opportunity, I began to invite speakers and guests to attend the press conference. As a Greensboro native, I was excited to reach out to city leaders and individuals that have been particularly impacted by gerrymandering.  Given that the trial would take place at the L. Richardson Preyer Courthouse, and Mr. Preyer had served as a congressman and later a board member of Common Cause, I took the opportunity to invite his grandson, Calder Preyer, to deliver remarks.

Calder, an owner of Preyer Brewing, spoke on behalf of the business community and as a member of the Preyer family. He remarked that his grandfather had taught him about fairness, and stated that the unfair legislative maps in North Carolina were damaging to competitiveness of elections and business alike.

I invited Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan to speak at the event as well, who called upon the legislature to establish a more fair system of redistricting. Mayor Vaughan noted that both parties have engaged in gerrymandering for decades, and explained that the time has come to “adopt a fair system for drawing our state’s voting maps.”

I also asked Rabbi Andy Koren of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro to speak. For years, Rabbi Koren has been a mentor of mine – accompanying me on multiple lobbying trips to Washington, DC, and instilling in me many moral responsibilities. Rabbi Koren insisted that our current system was “diluting the voice” of far too many individuals and encouraged the push for an “electoral system that values all North Carolinians.”

The final speaker was Alex Johnson, a student at NC A&T State University in Greensboro, who explained the damaging effect of the recent gerrymander, which split the A&T community into two separate congressional districts. Such an effort undermines the voting power of students and dilutes the voting power of the active minority presence of the A&T community.

The press conference was a great success and received attention from almost every local media outlet. Events like this help to educate North Carolinians about the damaging effects of gerrymandering and make clear the need for nonpartisan redistricting efforts.

If legislators in North Carolina respect the constitutional right of individuals to vote for their representatives, it is time for them to treat their addiction to gerrymandering with a nonpartisan redistricting commission.

Matt Mengert is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill and a summer 2017 intern with Common Cause NC.

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