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When Republican state legislators once again are called to account for their gerrymandered districts, their best defense will be, “We’ve gotten away with it before.”
That and “Democrats did it, too” are true. Republicans and Democrats alike have crafted districts that give themselves partisan advantages, and the courts have let them get away with it.
It’s time for the self-serving exercise to end. Partisan redistricting is a political party’s attempt to rig the election system and deny fair competition. The party in power can make sure it continues to win a majority of seats even without winning a majority of votes. All it takes is placing the right voters in the right numbers in the right districts, which is easily achieved with today’s computer technology. The process is manipulative and anti-democratic — but somehow not illegal, yet.
The N.C. House and Senate recently approved new legislative districts to replace those struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court for relying too heavily on the race of voters in 28 districts. The new plans now must be submitted to a panel of federal judges in Greensboro for approval. They should not get a passing grade.
This time, the Republican lawmakers in charge of redistricting gave no consideration to race. But they did give every consideration to political party, making sure that most districts would continue to elect Republicans.
There’s no reason to believe that Democrats would not have created similar advantages for themselves if they could.
Enough. The U.S. Supreme Court seems to be moving closer to ruling against partisan gerrymanders based on newly developed evidence about their effects on voters. Political scientists describe an “efficiency gap” between the number of votes cast for a political party and the number of candidates of that party who are actually elected. That calculation yields the number of “wasted votes.”
North Carolina is a leading state for such wasted votes — in other words, the number of voters who have little chance of electing the candidate of their choice.
The efficiency gap is most clearly seen in congressional voting. In North Carolina last year, 2.4 million votes were cast for Republican congressional candidates and 2.1 million for Democratic candidates. Those votes elected 10 Republicans and three Democrats. Simple math finds that Republicans won congressional seats at a rate of one for every 240,000 votes, while it cost Democrats 700,000 votes for each congressional seat won. Because of how the districts were drawn, it was nearly three times easier for a Republican to win than for a Democrat.
While judges should reject the latest attempted manipulation, an entirely new system is needed. Some states have implemented independent redistricting to take the job away from politicians. They entrust the process to a panel of impartial citizens charged with creating fair districts, only making sure that they contain equal numbers of voters and that some allow a reasonable chance for minority voter influence.
There is no perfect system, but a deliberately imperfect system should not be continued. The latest plans are unacceptable. The people of North Carolina deserve better than to be apportioned into districts so they can dutifully elect the representatives party leaders choose for them.
Greensboro News & Record