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Our Opinion: An affront to fairness
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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: An affront to fairness

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It’s disappointing that the three-judge panel examining the redistricting maps drawn by the Republican-led legislature to guide North Carolina elections has decided to let them stand. This was the verdict Tuesday following a lawsuit filed by three good-government groups, the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, the National Redistricting Foundation and the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause.

We respect the court, but must disagree with its decision, which leaves flawed district maps in place for yet another election cycle. The redistricting maps will likely cement a Republican advantage to fill a majority of U.S. House seats — 10 out of 14 — as well as state House and Senate majorities for the next decade. In a state in which roughly a third of registered voters are Democrats (with a slender majority), a third unaffiliated and a third Republican, this seems on its surface to be completely unfair.

And below the surface — maps purposely manipulated to divide the political leanings and racial composition of voters to Republican advantage — also seems completely unfair.

It’s even worse when recognized as one small part of a larger, countrywide effort to disenfranchise a majority of American voters.

“If allowed to stand, these extreme gerrymanders would cause profound and lasting harm to the people of our state, especially hurting Black communities, by depriving voters of a voice in choosing their representatives,” Bob Phillips, executive director of the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause, said following the ruling.

The court’s ruling is based, though, not on fairness, but on legalities. In their ruling, the judges wrote that even though the plaintiffs provided evidence of partisanship in the drawing of the maps, they could not declare that the mapmakers’ actions violated the state constitution. The judges added that the redistricting process is inherently political and that many of the plaintiffs’ claims fall outside the scope of legal redress.

In other words, our state constitution allows partisan gerrymandering. This may be good for Republicans to keep in mind should Democrats ever regain an electoral advantage.

In the meantime, the case has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which may have a different view about what the state constitution allows.

Let’s repeat that the evidence of gerrymandering is not in question. As one witness, a Carnegie Mellon University mathematician, testified, the Republican mapmakers intentionally chose maps more carefully crafted for their advantage than at least 99.9% of all possible alternatives. That requires intent.

On top of that, one of the mapmakers, Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), said during the trial that he drew the maps after referring to other “concept” maps — a process that the legislature supposedly banned.

The judges themselves condemned partisan gerrymandering, but said they had no power to interfere.

“Despite our disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule, this court must remind itself that these maps are the result of a democratic process,” their order read.

Those regrets notwithstanding, this isn’t good.

The court hearings were conducted on a tight schedule, as candidates prepare to run for office in one district or another.

A similar situation played out in December 2019, even after a three-judge panel concluded that the district maps drawn then by Republicans were flawed.

“As a practical matter, in the court’s view there is simply not sufficient time to fully evaluate the factual record necessary to decide the constitutional challenges of the congressional districts without significantly delaying the primary elections,” they concluded. “It is time for the citizens to vote.”

But justice delayed is justice denied.

That this is a flaw in our state constitution, and one that Republican legislators have no interest in repairing, lends support to the necessity of the voting rights bills being pushed by the Biden administration. If our state can’t conduct fair elections, the federal government has every right to step in.

The News & Record has long advocated the creation of an independent commission to draw district lines. Whichever party is currently out of power tends to support such a commission, also. Democrats as well as Republicans have felt differently when in the majority.

It may be too late to put one in place for this year, but it’s not too late to pass legislation that would apply to the next election. Republicans should consider doing so while they still have the standing to claim credit.

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