Since the founding of this country, however, that idea has been a fiction. Why? Because while democracy in theory implies equal representation for all, when you read the fine print, not every voice counts the same.
The history of voting in America is a history of exclusion and discrimination. Free white men who owned property were the only ones given the right to vote in our country’s infancy, while in the Southern States, slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of taxes and legislative representation.
But we are past all that, right?
Not in North Carolina. And we just got called out in it by none other than the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here are the basics:
- In 2011, the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly passed a new redistricting plan, which they are required to do following the most recent census. These new districts theoretically should reflect population shifts.
- Two lawsuits challenging the redistricting plan, Dickson v. Rucho and NC NAACP v. North Carolina, accused the state of gerrymandering the districts by “packing” 85 percent of African American voters into a few districts, thereby enabling the “bleaching” of other districts, effectively disenfranchising minority voters in the state.
- The NC Supreme Court upheld the redistricting laws in 2014, and the case was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Citing a March decision regarding a similar lawsuit in Alabama, the court remanded the case back to the NC Supreme Court, taking into account the Alabama ruling which suggested that “packing” minority voters into a district could violate the Voting Rights Act, and that the case should be reevaluated by the lower courts.
The main issue here is how we make sense of these redrawn maps. The challengers to the redistricting law point to the creation of super “majority-minority” districts, where African Americans are in the overwhelming majority, which serves to dilute the voting power of minorities in many of the contested districts across the state. In an interview with The Nation, Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said “Republicans are using race as a central basis in drawing districts for partisan advantage.”
The U.S Supreme Court, in sending the case back to the lower courts, offers a corrective of sorts. And if you look at some of the maps carefully, you can see why.
Did you ever see the episode of Friday Night Lights where they are drawing the school district lines to make sure that all the best players continue to go to Dillon High School? The district map looks like a meandering squiggly line that makes no geographical sense.
The same can be said for some of the newly created districts, particularly those in some closely contested races.
The challengers to the laws, including the NC NAACP, are calling the ruling a victory…for now. But the law’s key advocates Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) and Rep David Lewis (R-Harnett) say they are confident that the state Supreme Court will not change their decision.
So what does this all mean?
It means that even though the state legislature’s Washington-based party-funded mapmakers used mechanical formulas that were supposedly neutral regarding race, they weren’t.
It means that we now must wait and see once more if the courts will uphold a system that some call tantamount to a resegregation of the South.
It means that, in general, letting politicians choose who is allowed to vote for them is probably a bad idea.
Melissa Geil is a freelance writer and English teacher. Although originally from New York, she moved to North Carolina the first time for college (go Tar Heels), and now she is back to stay. She enjoys reading, hiking, and gallivanting around the triangle with her family.