Racial gerrymandering in North Carolina is just the tip of the iceberg

The Republican-controlled General Assembly in North Carolina approved a remapping of the state’s district lines on Monday after federal judges previously ordered lawmakers to revise maps that had been racially gerrymandered.

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A panel of judges will review the new maps next month and decide if they meet legal standards. Critics, however, are already accusing state lawmakers of doing little to improve the district lines, and they say the new maps will help Republicans rig future elections.

Mitchell Cook, a 23-year-old North Carolina resident, agrees. An independent, nonpartisan commission – not political parties – should draw the maps “so that the districts are truly representative of the voice and views of the people,” Mitchell said during an interview with NPR.

In 2016, a U.S. District Court ruled that 28 district maps in North Carolina violated the 14th amendment’s Equal Protection Clause by suppressing the voting power of African-Americans. While it was a landmark ruling that showed that political parties could be held accountable for extreme redistricting, it also exposed gerrymandering as a more systematic flaw of American democracy.

(Stephen Wolf/DailyKos)

After Republicans gained majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 2010 mid-term elections, party officials redrew district lines (which happens once every decade) in numerous key battleground states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina. This gave the GOP a significant advantage over Democrats in the 2012, 2014, and 2016 congressional elections, according to a study conducted by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

“By carefully designing maps to benefit itself, a political party can entrench an unfair majority in a state legislature or congressional delegation for the entire decade,” the study noted. “Technology and a growing flood of money into the redistricting process are, by broad consensus, only making the situation worse.”

In 2012, for example, Republicans retained their majority in the House even though Democrats won a plurality of the popular vote.

The GOP isn’t the only party that has gerrymandered districts to gain an edge over its opposition. In the same 2012 elections, Democrats benefited from redistricting lines in Maryland and Illinois, both of which already leaned democrat. In Maryland, the Democrats won 88 percent of the state’s congressional seats, but just 62 percent of the overall vote.

(Steven Nass/Wikimedia)

“If there is one silver bullet that could fix American democracy, it’s getting rid of gerrymandering,” read an op-ed in the Washington Post earlier this year. “Gerrymandering disempowers and distorts citizen votes, which leads to decreased turnout and a sense of powerlessness.”

In anticipation of the next round of redistricting – set to take place in 2020 – Democrats are already fundraising to prevent Republicans from repeating what they did in 2010. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, backed by former President Barack Obama, has already raised close to $11 million.