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State Representatives Push Non-Partisan Redistricting Reform

Photo: Map of North Carolina
Flickr user Lindley Ashline

A coalition of Democratic and Republican state representatives wants to cede their responsibility to draw North Carolina's electoral districts, to non-partisan staff or a non-partisan commission.

They say they want to take politics out of the process, but similar efforts have failed for more than 20 years.

Rep. Skip Stam, who represents Apex and is the second highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, spoke at a rare bi-partisan press conference Tuesday, arguing that when lawmakers draw state and congressional electoral maps, they can in effect choose who votes for them. Under current legislation, state lawmakers draw voting districts when new Census numbers come out every 10 years.

"The people with the most at stake are probably ones who shouldn't be doing the details," Stam said.

That’s why some people feel their vote doesn’t count, says Representative Grier Martin. He's a Democrat and his district in Wake County was drawn to favor Democrats - and he says that's a problem.

"We need to have more districts where folks are elected because they were able to build a consensus amongst their voters – Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and unaffiliated – that they were the candidate who could best represent their interest," Martin said.

Photo: Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Hendersonville), center, was joined at a press conference by Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland), Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Wilson), Rep. Skip Stam (R-Wake) and Rep. Charles Jeter (D-Mecklenberg).
Credit Jorge Valencia
A coalition of Democratic and Republican state representatives is proposing to make non-partisan the process of drawing the state's electoral maps. Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Hendersonville), center, was joined at a press conference by Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland), Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Wilson), Rep. Skip Stam (R-Wake) and Rep. Charles Jeter (D-Mecklenberg).

Proposals for non-partisan redistricting have been recurring at the North Carolina Genenral Assembly for at least 25 years. In 1989, Stam unsuccessfully sponsored a bill proposing that the General Assembly cede its map-drawing duties to non-partisan staff. In the early 1990s, when Democrats held a majority in the General Assembly, new computer software started making gerrymandering easier. The party in power is generally resistant to this kind of reform, explains UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Michael Crowell.

"The two political parties' views have changed over time," Crowell said. "One party thinking it had an advantage didn't want to change the rules, and the other party thinking it was going to be at a disadvantage wanted to change the rules."

After the most recent round of redistricting in 2011, a majority of North Carolina's state and congressional seats became safely Republican. Civil rights groups filed law suits, but the courts have upheld the maps.

"We have solved the problem," said Bob Rucho, a Republican Senator from Mecklenburg County who played a leading role in drawing the maps. "The Supreme Court in North Carolina, the Supreme Court in the United States has laid out all of the criteria of how you draw district maps, and that's exactly what we did."

The last time a non-partisan redistricting reform bill picked up steam was in 2011. It passed in the House but wasn't really debated in the Senate. It seems that could happen again. Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Republican from Hendersonville and chair of the powerful Rules Committee, told reporters yesterday that if the bill gets to his chamber, it's pretty much dead.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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