Sarah Grace Goolden
On Jan. 9, North Carolina unanimously voted the 2011 congressional district map unconstitutional. Almost 7 years after the original release, all three judges agreed that the proposed plan would result in partisan gerrymandering and therefore would not be an accurate representation of voting in the state. This is an extreme example of abusing power that is sadly not the first nor the last of its kind, especially in North Carolina.
Gerrymandering is the purposeful practice of drawing districts in such a way that manipulates particular groups to favor one political party. North Carolina has been known for an exaggeration of gerrymandering to the point where many people have called its democracy into question.
In 2011, African-American voters were pushed into two congressional districts to reduce their input. Since minority voters historically tend to vote Democratic, this act of grouping them together stifled their weight in elections and guaranteed Republicans the upper hand for the next decade, until the next Census.
Despite North Carolina containing slightly more Democrats, the district maps leaned heavily in favor of the Republican Party. Due to the fact both North Carolina senators and majority of the representatives are Republicans, the power of cutting the state up has been placed in the hands of those who, like most in power, want what is best for their group. Unfortunately, this action has muted those with different political views.
Race, while not the only component to gerrymandering, is primarily used as a stepping block for personal motives. Since the beginning of this nation, minorities have been taken advantage of. In a way, gerrymandering is another way to dilute the influence of African-Americans while still continuing to profit from it. Many, however, disagree with this statement and claim that the district map is not a problematic abuse of power.
“We all know in North Carolina that sometimes race correlates with party, political performance,” says Phil Strach, attorney for the Republican Party lawmakers in an interview with The News and Observer. “There has been no evidence so far that what the state was doing was looking at race.”
Most states hire consultants to work with their politicians when drawing their lines up. In the 2011 case, Thomas Hofeller is responsible for creating the maps in question after being hired in North Carolina. This is not his first experience with redistricting or accusations of gerrymandering.
Hofeller has been hired in several states around the country. His vast experience in the field has taught him how to contort district lines to advantage one party over another while attempting to avoid legal backlash. However, he could not escape criticism this time when the lines were so overemphasized and obvious it warranted the court case.
While Democrats praise the outcome as a victory and hopefully the beginning of change around the country, others are willing to refute it. Republican representatives have been open about their plan to appeal the decision to the U.S Supreme Court.
The debate continues if the boundaries are actually an example of gerrymandering. Can Republicans thank their winnings to simply a state with the same values? The fact is that North Carolina’s congressional district borders are wonky. Squiggly and seemingly random shapes are often a sign of gerrymandering. However, more important than the actual appearance of them is what is contained in NC’s districts.
There are two approaches to creating an optimal map that ensures victory for one party: packing all of a single group together in one district or splitting them up sparingly amongst several. Both methods can effectively snuff out an entire demographic, but can result in an obviously doctored plan. The effort becomes trying to balance gerrymandering and the facade of authenticity. North Carolina was caught in legal conflict after the boundaries were so transparent it could hold up in court.
The practice of gerrymandering creates an infinite loop in the distribution of power, and when inaccurate representation exists, a state cannot say they are honoring their citizens. Districts have to be arranged in a way that does not minimize the voice of any people. This starts with who we give that control to. Some states use independent commissions and encourage both political parties to work together to find a resolution. This approach can limit advantages for either side.
Districts are important and need to be regularly updated. When populations change, so do the political mindsets in that area, warranting new maps. If redistricting just becomes a game of giving one party the upper hand, what is the point? Elections become a science, fueled by a precalculated outcome.
Until everyone has as equal of a vote as possible, North Carolina cannot say it is represented by its citizens. Cooper v. Harris is a victory for constitutional rights in North Carolina and should be used an example on what to avoid in the future.