I’m a political science major, and I’ll be the first to admit that gerrymandering is an extremely dull topic. Congressional redistricting just isn’t as sexy as other issues! But with the recent verdict from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, understanding its ramifications is vital, now more than ever. Gerrymandering essentially means the construction of a congressional district in favor of one’s party. It was coined by the Boston Gazette in 1812 to describe the appallingly contorted districts of Massachusetts. Clearly, it’s not a new issue, but for North Carolinians, it is by far the most concerning. Before Republicans took the House and Senate, Democrats packed right-of-center voters into squiggly splatters of districts in order to keep their legislative seats. And when Republicans took control, they redrew the districts in order to dilute the influence of all kinds of folks: progressives, centrists, even unaffiliated voters who just happened to be people of color. The shapes of the districts were unbelievably ridiculous: District 12 stretched from Gastonia to Durham and was in some places no wider than a single car lane, District 2 curled around 4 in a sort of swollen U shape, and District 13 appeared to be more of a squashed Keith Haring figure than a congressional district. These shenanigans have left many a voter without a voice. It has unfairly allowed Republicans a 10-3 advantage over Democrats in the federal government, and blocked people of color, particularly Black folks, from an equal sway over the elections. Remember the 14th Amendment? Good, because apparently our representatives don’t. Thankfully, our state has been ordered by the courts to scrap the old district maps. However, the panel is leaving it up to the legislature to decide who gets to redraw our congressional lines. Which begs the question: how do we go about completing this contentious, tedious process?
Typically, the privilege is left up to the majority party, but the Supreme Court has struck down Republican drafts as unconstitutional over and over again. As a matter of fact, the only thing restraining them from gerrymandering even further, as Representative David Lewis (R) put it, was because they “[did] not believe it [was] possible to draw a map with eleven Republicans and two Democrats.” Clearly, Republicans have too much at stake to redraw these maps sans partisan intent. Then should we leave it up to the minority party? Absolutely not. Democrats have proven themselves quite capable of dishing out some fishy districts as well. In 2003, when they held the majority, they drew a map that consistently elected majority Democrats. Former Speaker Jim Black (D) stressed the importance of Democratic control of the district redrawing, and gave an awfully patronizing response to claims of racial bias in the new maps: “I personally believe African-American citizens will be better off with Democratic leaders for the next 10 to 20 years.” This cycle of gerrymandering in our state has been brewing for decades. New technology can give lawmakers the names, ages, and political registrations of folks down to the city block. And legislators on both sides of the aisle have demonstrated time and time again that they are incapable of making these important political decisions when their jobs are on the line. So why in the world do we continue to hand the responsibility of congressional redistricting back to them? Why give the task of drawing nonpartisan election maps to folks whose very livelihoods rely on their continued partisanship and election? Republicans would like to hang on to their seats, I’m sure. But 2018 is an election year, and if the #Resistance manages to stumble into the polls come November, all y’all are in deep trouble, gerrymandering or no. And you know what? The rest of us would be, too! Once the pendulum swings right again, we’re gonna be plagued by Matthew Shepherd truthers and pro-slavery conservatives (again). If we don’t break this toxic pattern of gerrymandering, we’re going to be playing tug-of-war with constituents for the next century. Wouldn’t it be nice to get to a happy medium? Where we’re discussing nonpartisan issues like school funding and childcare instead of going for the jugular every session? Then we have GOT to fix this stupid problem. And the only way to do that is if we (all of us!) come together and get our legislators to knock it off. So give your reps a call and tell them you want a nonpartisan, nonlegislative group on the case; if not for party, then for country.