Millions of Americans understand that something is profoundly amiss with our nation’s elective system.
A big part of that trouble is partisan gerrymandering, which has been with us since our nation began, but never before on the scale in which it was employed in 2011. Gerrymandering is redistricting, done every 10 years after a U.S. census, and it underpins our elective process. When it goes wrong, as it did in the most partisan gerrymander ever in 2011, elections can be lopsided for a decade or more.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am the lead plaintiff in one of the lawsuits that resulted in the United States Supreme Court declaring 28 of 170 North Carolina legislative districts unconstitutional.
Legislators are now hustling to meet a court-imposed Sept. 1 deadline for approving new, constitutional districts. It must be noted that the elections of 2012, 2014 and 2016 were conducted in unconstitutional districts, calling into question whether the actions of unconstitutionally elected legislators were constitutional themselves.
Since the 2011 redistricting in North Carolina, countless people have said to me that the Republicans in the General Assembly who hired outside consultants with taxpayer dollars to draw a highly partisan and ultimately unconstitutional redistricting “did not do anything the Democrats have not done.”
Yes and no. Both Democrats and Republicans have gerrymandered since Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts gave the OK more than 200 years ago, generally for political advantage for certain incumbents or to punish others. But never in United States history has there been anything like what occurred in North Carolina and several other “purple” states in 2011.
Here is what happened. A Republican attorney in Richmond, Virginia, had the brilliant — and I mean brilliant very sincerely — idea to snag the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives by taking over purple state legislatures in 2010 to control the redistricting process for both Congress and state legislatures.
This plan, dubbed REDMAP, was executed with surgical precision by fancy map-drawing software paid for by Republicans in Washington. It was legal and succeeded beyond even the wildest expectations of its architects. Heavily gerrymandered maps were drawn in 2011. The maps not only guaranteed Republican control of the U.S. House for at least the current decade and probably beyond, they consolidated Republican control of state legislatures, including the North Carolina General Assembly.
A stunning strategic plan coupled with sophisticated software never before available hijacked the redistricting process as never before and guaranteed Republican control of the legislative process, no matter the will of the people of several states and Americans in general. It was all accomplished for about $30 million, far less than it would have taken to elect members of Congress the oldfashioned way. And for slightly over $1 million spent in North Carolina, Republicans bought a veto-proof General Assembly, which continues to this moment.
No need to take my word for any or all of this. Books have been written about REDMAP, as well as numerous articles in all sorts of publications. David Daley, who wrote a book about REDMAP subtitled, “The True Story Behind the Plan to Steal America’s Democracy,” called REDMAP “gerrymandering on steroids.” Daley is also pessimistic that REDMAP redistricting can be reversed any time soon.
So why should good, solid North Carolinians working hard for their families give a hoot about anything as arcane and unsexy as gerrymandering? Because the people who are elected to the General Assembly and to Congress make decisions that affect all of us — education funding, health care accessibility, military issues and more.
They should be reflections of all of us, neither just the right wing nor just the left wing.
The results of REDMAP continue to generate lawsuits and efforts to institute bipartisan, even nonpartisan, redistricting plans. Most but not all states task their legislatures with this, but the United States is the only developed nation that allows those who benefit from the plans to draw those plans.
REDMAP has taught our nation a big lesson, and new ways of redistricting are clearly in order. It behooves us all to pay attention to reform proposals and decide for ourselves how North Carolina should proceed in the future.