“Electoral districts drawn fairly by professionals tend to produce results that reflect the political makeup of the state’s voters, and the way they vote.” The Associated Press reached that conclusion following an extensive analysis of 2018 voting patterns in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. The A.P. found that electoral districts drawn by politicians with the aim of keeping themselves in control tended to produce results that bore little resemblance to the state’s real political balance or the way voters cast their ballots.
Cumberland County’s House of Representatives District 45, held by Republican John Szoka, is one of nearly 100 legislative districts across the state that a new lawsuit alleges violates the North Carolina Constitution. The suit contends North Carolina’s legislative maps were designed, or gerrymandered, to guarantee that Republican candidates would win a majority of the seats in the state House and Senate.
Partisan gerrymandering, which refers to redistricting that favors one political party, has a long tradition in the United States that precedes the 1789 election of the first U.S. Congress. The word gerrymander was used for the first time in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 26, 1812. The word was used in response to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate districts under then- Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party.
In the 1812 election, both the Massachusetts House and governorship were won by Federalists by a comfortable margin, costing Gerry his position. Historians believe Federalist newspaper editors Nathan Hale and Benjamin and John Russell were the instigators of the name.
The new lawsuit was filed this month by the North Carolina Democratic Party, the Common Cause North Carolina governmental accountability organization and 22 Democratic and unaffiliated voters. It’s the newest in years of legal battles over the constitutionality of gerrymandering. The suit contends the Republican gerrymander violates numerous provisions of the state Constitution.
Plaintiffs want the state senate and house maps revised in time for the 2020 elections. The gist of the complaint alleges that House and Senate district boundaries were intentionally drawn to place as many Democratic-favoring voters as possible into as few districts as possible statewide so that a majority of the 120 House districts and 50 Senate districts would be dominated by Republican voters.
Cumberland County is heavily Democratic. Of more than 220,000 registered voters, 45 percent are Democrats. There are more independent voters than Republicans. About 31.5 percent are unaffiliated and almost 23 percent are Republicans. The remainder are in the Libertarian Party, the Green Party or Constitution Party. The GOP challenge was to create at least one of the county’s four house districts as a majority Republican area. The legislature used a device called packing.
“The General Assembly packed most of the Democratic areas of Cumberland County into three of the four districts in this cluster, House Districts 42, 43, and 44,” the suit contends. “The General Assembly packed the Democratic voters to create one Republican-leaning district in Cumberland County, House District 45.” Republican Szoka won that seat.
Photo: Rep. John Szoka, R-N.C.