Being a state senator in the minority party in North Carolina for the last seven years has been like getting a masterclass in how to defend a democracy.
I’ve seen countless attempts to thwart, minimize, or just plow through the will of the voters.
Of all these anti-democratic tactics, the most blatant, impactful, and racially pernicious is clearly gerrymandering.
That’s why ending gerrymandering was the first bill I ever filed, back in 2015 — and that’s why it’s our first full agenda item for our U.S. Senate campaign.
A core piece of this campaign is making it a true 100 county effort, learning what our regional and local priorities should be, and building an agenda that reflects them.
But there are certain foundational issues that cut across geography and ideology.
Gerrymandering is literal and open corruption, and it robs you of your power as a voter — so we start there.
It’s also important to understand that in the South gerrymandering effectively operates by minimizing Black electoral power, and it does so by either “packing” or “cracking” Black communities.
The use of race is so intertwined with the method and purpose of gerrymandering that the phrase “racial gerrymandering” is basically redundant, at least in our state.
We’ve seen courts repeatedly step in to counteract gerrymandering. As a result, the lines have been redrawn — a lot.
For example, I ran for re-election three times in three separate districts without moving. The lines just kept moving around me.
For a sense of scale about how serious this issue is, let’s compare it to the well-known problem of dark money in politics. As corrosive as the effect of dark money certainly is, gerrymandering is worse.
Dark money is about influencing the outcome of elections.
Gerrymandering, in its extreme form, is about the wholesale determining of electoral outcomes.
With the flick of a (digital) pen on a map, you can virtually guarantee that one party will permanently hold a seat.
That’s real power — and it’s been repeatedly abused by members of both parties for decades.
My party clearly failed on this count. When Republicans were in the minority, they filed bill after bill to end gerrymandering. My party threw those bills in the trash can because they never thought they would be out of power. Then the Republicans took over and returned the favor — only this time, they had access to powerful new software and reams of data to take a surgical approach and find the theoretical limit of just how big their majority could be.
But this isn’t about hurting a party — this is about hurting your ability as a voter to hold your legislators accountable.
You might consider yourself a very strong Republican or Democrat, but I’m certain that you don’t appreciate the decision to choose your representatives effectively being taken out of your hands — even if it’s by members of your own party.
These are the reasons why the first bill I ever filed was to end gerrymandering.
These are also the reasons why my bill was sent to the Ways and Means Committee, which hasn’t met in 20 years.
It’s because this is fundamentally about corruption. There’s really no better word for it.
I want to acknowledge that a few members of the current majority have been consistently helpful on this issue and that’s why the effort to end gerrymandering is still bipartisan, as it should be.
But this is a redistricting year, and so far it appears we’re in for another round of testing-the-limits partisan gerrymandering.
As a state Senator, one of my main jobs this session is to advocate for a fair process that does not let politicians draw their own districts.
As a U.S. Senator, one of my top priorities would be supporting bills like the For the People Act, which includes a number of pro-democracy reforms, prominently including an end to gerrymandering on the federal level.
So, what does the solution look like? What does independent redistricting actually mean?
As a threshold consideration, it’s important to understand that there is no unanimous consensus on the optimal method for redistricting.
Facebook comments usually include strong recommendations for how to handle this.
“Just make it the county lines!”
While there is a “whole county” provision in our state constitution, that method can’t be a 100% solution because all districts need to have the same population. Whereas I currently represent a fifth of one county, some of my colleagues in the state Senate represent over 10 whole counties — all to get to roughly 200,000 people per district.
Another favorite: “Just use a computer! Just use an algorithm!”
Ok, but who writes the algorithm? The issue is that, even assuming lots of controls over lots of variables, there will still be a variety of possible maps. Determining one, final map has irreducible elements of human discretion. We can certainly seek to minimize that discretion (more to follow), but we can’t blip it out — without, in effect, making certain discretionary decisions in advance.
That said, there is a broad consensus on how to take this process from our current F- method of open partisan electioneering to a solid A method of a genuine attempt at a fair process and a reasonable outcome. There’s just some disagreement on what an A+ method would look like.
We know that there are two big pieces to any solution: 1) who gets to draw the map and 2) the rules for map-drawing.
When it comes to who gets to draw the map, we know that politicians can’t be allowed to do it. It has to be done by a separate group. Most reform efforts involve a group composed of ⅓ Republican appointees, ⅓ Democratic appointees, and ⅓ independent/unaffiliated appointees. The method of selection of the independent/unaffiliated appointees varies in different proposals.
When it comes to the rules for map-drawing, it comes down to the type of data the group is allowed to use and the general criteria they must follow. For example, just about every version bans the use of political data, so you can’t carve up precincts based on voter registration. And many versions encourage certain principles, like compactness, contiguity, and preservation of whole counties (to the extent possible while still ensuring equal numbers of voters in each district).
I know a lot of this sounds technical, but it goes to the heart of your political power as a voter — which means it goes to the heart of why it can be so hard to see your political will result in actual change.
This is going to be a major debate this year, but you should treat it as more than a policy question.
This is a character issue.
There is no ethical defense for drawing districts to make sure that you and your buddies are protected from the voters.
None. It’s plainly unethical.
Anyone who hems and haws in response to whether we should end gerrymandering is on the take — in the exact same manner that anyone who defends bank robbery is probably on a crew.
You should boldly and persistently confront your state and federal legislators about this. There aren’t two sides. This is simple.
You deserve your full power as a voter — and any politician who doesn’t want to end gerrymandering disagrees with you.