America was founded on the democratic principles of equality, freedom and justice. However, the practice of gerrymandering – particularly partisan gerrymandering – is denying voters equal representation and ultimately limiting our democracy.
Gerrymandering is not a partisan issue, it is a systematic failure that both parties are guilty of perpetuating. This unconstitutional practice has undermined our democratic system, allowing politicians to pick their voters, versus the other way around, resulting in politicians who are unresponsive to their constituents. This is limiting the people’s right to choose their representatives.
North Carolina in particular has been a hotbed of court cases involving both racial and partisan gerrymandering offenses. One such case, Common Cause v. Rucho, goes to trial Monday at a federal courthouse in Greensboro. That lawsuit has the potential to result in a landmark decision to end partisan gerrymandering.
However, if gerrymandering remains the status quo, it could devastatingly reverse decades of progress on voting rights and set a new precedent that inherently threatens democracy.
What is partisan gerrymandering?
In North Carolina, the legislature has the power to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts. In turn, what often occurs is the majority party crafting districts that unfairly disadvantage voters and candidates of the opposing party.
This practice is not a new concept by any means and partisan gerrymandering has continued to be used as a lucrative political tactic. Due to its success rates and effectiveness, politicians are reluctant to get rid of it. And while an influx of cases against gerrymandering has raised awareness of the issue among the public and media, the practice has continued.
Common Cause v. Rucho
The case of Common Cause v. Rucho could have a profound impact in the realm of redistricting reform. In 2016, a federal court ruled that the Republican-controlled NC General Assembly unconstitutionally gerrymandered two of the state’s 13 congressional districts and ordered them to be redrawn.
Republican legislative leaders responded to that court order by creating a blatant partisan gerrymander designed to benefit their own party. Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) freely admitted this when he said, “We want to make clear that we … are going to use political data in drawing this map. It is to gain partisan advantage on the map. I want that criteria to be clearly stated and understood.”
Why was Rep. Lewis so bold in admitting to this partisan gerrymander after having just been swatted down by the court for racially gerrymandering?
The reason is that while the courts have been clear about the unconstitutionality of racial gerrymandering, the US Supreme Court has not yet issued a decisive ruling declaring partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional.
In short: partisan gerrymandering has been the last refuge of politicians looking to shield themselves from accountability while depriving voters of a choice and voice at the ballot box.
Gerrymandering jeopardizes ‘We the People’
“We the People” is stated in the preamble to the Constitution to signify that the people are the sovereigns, not the politicians. Over time this idea of “We the People” has been expanded to include women and minorities to ensure their voices matter and are heard.
It took the suffrage movement over 70 years for women to gain the right to vote, and partisan gerrymandering has the potential to limit and invalidate that voting power women and minorities have worked so hard to gain. In fact, “We the People” show bipartisan opposition to partisan gerrymandering and agree it has to go.
A poll conducted by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center found 71 percent of voters oppose allowing politicians to garner votes by drawing districts that dilute voters’ influence to ensure party advantage. Only 15 percent were in support of partisan gerrymandering.
Partisan gerrymandering is being used as a weapon in a political game rather than allowing democracy to thrive. It’s time we bring this undemocratic issue to light, and that starts with taking a stand.
Moving beyond gerrymandering
We need to set a new precedent that tells politicians that Americans will not tolerate gerrymandering of any sort, and that our voting power matters and carries weight.
The case of Common Cause v. Rucho could be a decisive step towards establishing a fair and nonpartisan way of drawing our voting districts. Partisan gerrymandering cannot stand to go unchecked any longer and redistricting reform is needed now more than ever.
Annaleigh Mills is a senior at NC State University majoring in political science and a fall 2017 intern with Common Cause North Carolina.