http://www.citylab.com; January 12, 2018
It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum. Primaries for the Mid-Term Elections begin in March. If the chatter on the social media is to be believed, a "blue wave" is coming this November. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are in play. Slowly, the Republican majority is being chipped away. Some it can be explained as a backlash to Republican complacency to Mr. Donald Trump. With the primaries looming in the horizon, Yours Truly thought it would be a good idea to take a look at how one state is attempting to redraw electoral districts in favor of one party over another. The state in question is North Carolina and the attempt to redraw electoral districts in favor of one party over another is called gerrymandering. Barry Yeoman explains in his CityLab article "How Gerrymandering Silenced North Carolina's Cities," "When North Carolina's legislative leaders were ordered to redraw the state's 13 congressional districts in 2016, they gave their hired mapmaker an explicit instruction: Maximize the Republican Party's electoral advantage."
Here on the Blog, we talk a lot about red Republican states and blue Democrat states. No reason why those colors were chosen. We never mentioned purple states: states that "are closely divided in its support of the two major parties." North Carolina is a one of those states. If it was up to State Representative David Lewis, senior chair of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, the state map would be more red than blue. At committee meeting (nbcnews.com; Sept. 22, 2017; date access Jan. 17, 2018), Rep. Lewis told the assembly,
I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is not law,.... I propose that we draw the map to give a partisan to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrat because I do not believe it's possible to draw a map with 11 Republican and 2 Democrats.
That still does not sound right, does it.
Thomas Hofeller, the mapmaker, had an idea on how to achieve Rep. Lewis's dream map: strip electoral power from the cities.
There are two primary methods to gerrymander (prepublica.org; Nov. 2, 2011; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018): "packing" and "cracking". Mr. Yeoman explains: "Packing a district means cramming it with like-minded voters-more than are needed to guarantee a safe seat. Cracking a community means spreading its voters across multiple districts in which they hold a minority view." Tomas Lopez, the executive director of the non-profit advocacy group Democracy North Carolina (democracync.org; date accessed Jan 17, 2018), said together, the cumulative effect is that it dilutes voices including urban ones.
This is precisely what Mr. Hofeller did in five North Carolina cities, according to a decision issued last Tuesday by a three-judge federal panel which struck down the state's congressional districts. This was the situation: voters in the Raleigh and Durham areas were packed into Democrat David Price's 4th District, Charlotte residents were grouped into Democrat Alma Adams' 12th District. This made it easier for districts surrounding them to remain Republican. Meanwhile, the blue-leaning Greensboro and Asheville were divided between Republican districts.
Democratic state senator Terry Van Duyn, a resident of Asheville a western North Carolina city that is counterculture, outdoor-oriented, and very progressive, told CityLab,
There are a lot of ways to neutralize urban votes, and this is one of them,... My vote just doesn't count,... And because they cut Asheville in half, we contribute to the fact that congressional delegation is not representative of out state.
The January 8 decision, written by 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James A. Wynn Jr., was the first instance a federal court declared a congressional map unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering. The federal courts have frequently tossed out maps because of racial bias-"...it was a race-based federal-court ruling [redistricting.lls.edu; Feb. 5, 2016; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018] that forced North Carolina's 2016 congressional redrawing." Mr. Yeoman notes, "That decision was affirmed [supremecourt.gov; October Term 2016; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018] by the Supreme Court in May." However, the courts have been more liberal about electoral districts drawn in order to benefit one political party or another.
Judge Wynn's opinion (brennancenter.org; Jan. 9, 2018; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018) potentially could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, sets precedent. Mr. Yeoman writes, Out of 24,518 possible maps generated by Duke University mathematicians Jonathan Mattingly, the judge noted, more than 99 percent gave Republican fewer employees than the 10 House seats they currently hold in North Carolina." This, Judge Wynn wrote, reflects an intentional effort to subordinate the interests of non-Republican voters. He continued,
Partisan gerrymandinering runs contrary to numerous fundamental democratic principles and individual rights enshrined in the Constitution,...Long-standing, and even widespread, historical practice does not immunize governmental action from constitutional scrutiny
The North Carolina legislature has never been friendly to cities. For example, "Back in the 1990s, when it was controlled by Democrats, a National Rifle Association lobbyist courted legislators with seafood parties and Christmas gifts [barryyeoman.com; Feb. 24, 1997; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018] and convinced them to invalidate local gun-control ordinances, which cities like Durham favored."
When the Republicans took over the legislature in 2011, they went on a preemptive frenzy. Remember the reviled House Bill 2, i.e. "The Bathroom Bill," "which forced transgender people to use the restroom corresponding to their birth certificates in public buildings (indyweek.com; July 13, 2016; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018)? This reviled bill passed after the city of Charlotte passed an ordinance protecting its LGBTQ citizens. Fortunately, HB2 has been partially repealed but it still bars cities from "enacting labor standards and civil-rights protections."
More precisely, the statehouse went after individuals. When the Durham City Council refused to incorporate land in a watershed to accommodate a developer (wral.com; date accessed June 27, 2013; Jan. 17, 2018), the legislators expanded the city boundaries by acclamation (ncleg.net; Session 2013; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018).
It is no surprise to Barry Yeoman that "none of the current legislative leadership comes from a major metropolitan area." Republican state leader frequently portray North Carolina's cities as outsiders to the political mainstream defined as "conservative and rural." Former Republican Governor Pat McCrory invoked North Carolina values (whatever those are) to justify the reviled HB2 (youtube.com; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018) and a subsequent law banning sanctuary cities (huffpost.com; Oct. 28, 2015; date accessed Jan. 1, 2018). Further, at a hearing this past August (wral.com), called to get public comment on state legislative district maps-NC state Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse made the racially tinged suggestion "...that Donald Trump's sweep of white rural North Carolina should signal the state's political direction." More accurately, the president won 50.5 percent of the vote in North Carolina but lost the seven most populous-urban- counties.
Mr. Woodhouse asserted,
It is not the job of this committee to make a political party that lost 76 [of 100] North Carolina counties in the presidential election competitive, because they are uncompetitive in vast swaths, vast areas,... The minority party in this body has a geographic problem.
Mr. Yeoman points out, "No one has suggested that North Carolina's congressional map was drawn with the overt purpose of harming cities. But both gerrymandering and preemption suggest a willingness on the part of legislative leaders to diminish cities' power in the service of their electoral and policy goals."
Eventually, the question of politically biased gerrymandering will be settled by the Supreme Court, which listened to arguments in a similar case from Wisconsin (washingtonpost.com; Oct. 3, 2017; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018) and recently agreed to o hear a Maryland case (Ibid; Dec. 4, 2017). There is possibility that the North Carolina case could also be heard by the justices however, "The legislative defendants have already requested [brennancenter.org; Jan. 11, 2018; date accessed Jan. 17, 2018] a stay." If the Supreme Court agrees with Judge James A. Wynn, and declares extreme politically motivated gerrymandering unacceptable, it will be much harder to justify ignoring cities in the next round of redistricting.