Gerrymandering—the drawing of district lines to benefit a certain political party—of congressional districts have hindered democratic processes for years. In late November of 2016, a federal court found 28 districts in North Carolina to be “racial gerrymanders,” which are unconstitutional, and ordered the districts to be redrawn and special elections to be held in the fall of 2017. The decision challenged the districts drawn by Republicans in 2011, finding that the legislature illegally packed African-American and Hispanic voters together into few districts with the hopes of weakening their votes. North Carolina’s Republican-dominated state government appealed the decision and the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether it will take the case–in the meantime, Chief Justice John Roberts has issued a stay in the case, preventing the 2017 elections from occurring until SCOTUS decides whether or not it will hear the case. But the consequences racial gerrymandering has had for North Carolina and in particular, its minority voters who have been continuously disenfranchised by this gerrymandering and the unconstitutional voter identification laws have already taken effect.
“The impact of the current gerrymandering efforts are apparent. While NC is considered a “purple” state the current Congressional Districts do not reflect that,” said Mary Klenz, a Co-President of the North Carolina League of Women Voters (LWV). “In [the past], the delegation was split seven to six in favor of Democrats. Today the partisan split is 10 to three in favor of Republicans.”
Data from the NC Board of Elections shows that in 2016 elections, Democrats received 5.3% fewer votes but 21.7% fewer seats in the North Carolina General Assembly. Of 120 House races, 29 had no formal Democratic candidate and 31 had no Republican candidate. This resulted in nearly half of General Assembly district races having only one candidate on the ballot, said Klenz, citing statistics from the Board of Elections, with virtually no competition. Furthermore, congressional district races were decided by a margin of 10 or more percentage points.
“Another alarming impact on both legislative and congressional districts is that many are so skewed in favor of one party or the other than the districts are grossly uncompetitive,” Klenz said. “This results in districts where the outcome is thought to be determined before the general election is even held. Or, candidates of the minority party do not even bother to run for election, given that the outcome is perceived to be determined in advance.”
If the United States Supreme Court takes the case, Chief Justice Roberts’s block on special elections will remain until the case is decided. The case, if SCOTUS rules on it, would be groundbreaking in terms of the legality of gerrymandering.
“Current practices do not bode well for the democratic process and democracy,” said Klenz. “Leagues [of Women Voters] across the country are facing similar situations and are making their voices heard on this and other topics related to the making democracy work. The LWVNC has expressed these and other concerns at public hearings, media releases and in public forums, as well in litigation. When safe districts designed to protect incumbents diminish the voice of the voters and grossly misrepresent the true political balance among the voters in the state…that is not democracy.”