OUR VIEW: Districting process must change to end gerrymandering

Gerrymandering has been going on for so long in American politics that it is treated as a tool of the trade.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly was called out on the carpet by federal judges earlier this year for its drawing of the congressional districts.

In that ruling, a three-judge panel earlier this month that two North Carolina congressional districts — the 1st, represented by G.K. Butterfield, and covered most of the northeast region of the state, encompassing all or part of 24 counties from Durham to Elizabeth City with a sliver stretching southward to Greenville and New Bern, and 12th, represented by Rep. Alma Adams, D-Greensboro, which snaked down I-85 from her hometown down to Charlotte — were gerrymandered based on race.

Lawmakers redrew the maps, completely changing several districts — including the one that consists of Richmond, Anson and Scotland counties — and forced the primary for the U.S. House seats to be delayed.

Last week, state leaders had their hands slapped once again by a panel of federal judges for its legislative maps. The panel ruled that 19 House and nine Senate districts are illegally gerrymandered by race — including House District 48, which has been represented by Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, since 2004.

The ruling comes too late for lawmakers to go back to the drawing board and tweak the maps before November’s election, so this will be the first order of business when the General Assembly heads back into session next year.

Gerrymandering isn’t just a tool used by Republicans, it has also been used by Democrats as well, all across the country. When congressional or legislative districts resemble Rorschach tests, then it is easy to assume that it was drawn that way to keep the controlling party in power for a few more years.

In North Carolina, Republicans weren’t the party in control of drawing the district lines for 114 years. So when the GOP swept into power by grabbing the House, Senate and seeing a fellow Republican elected as governor, it is easy to see why the maps favored Republicans. That reasoning didn’t make it right, and the courts were quick to point that out.

When the first panel rejected North Carolina’s congressional maps in February, we applauded the decision because the representatives to the U.S. House should be a reflection of the state, not just the party in power in the General Assembly. We repeat our sentiments about the legislative maps as well and renew our call for an independent panel of Democrats and Republicans draw the state maps every 10 years.

Otherwise, North Carolinians will continue to watch their lawmakers produce more and more gerrymandered maps.

Portions of this editorial previously appeared in the Sanford Herald.

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