Tomorrow's editorial tonight:
The U.S. Justice Department’s approval on Tuesday of voting districts drawn by the Republican-controlled N.C. legislature riled some Democrats, catching many off guard. Even Democratic N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue claimed surprise when she learned about it, via Twitter no less.
Republicans, meanwhile, are strutting around with delight. They played politics with redrawing voting lines – just as Democrats did when they controlled the legislature – and got the nod from a Democratic administration that their plan is legal.
It may well be legal. But we know it can’t be labeled fair – not when it makes 10 of 13 congressional districts lean Republican in a state that is pretty evenly divided in terms of party preference.
In any case, the courts likely will be the final arbiter of the legality of the plan, and that fight could go on past 2012. At least two challenges are expected. One was filed Thursday, and another is slated for today. The lawsuits focus on whether the voting plan unlawfully splits precincts and counties, and violates “communities of interest,” which is one benchmark of redistricting.
Those are different issues than those the Justice Department considered in preclearing the plan under the Voting Rights Act. Justice looked at the narrow question of whether minority voting strength was hurt by the plan. They decided it didn’t.
So Justice Department approval is no guarantee the plan will survive a court challenge. In North Carolina and elsewhere, courts have overruled the Justice Department on redistricting in the past.
Regardless of the outcome, there’s a better way to do redistricting. A nonpartisan, independent commission drawing the lines seems the best way to get a voting map that’s fair and designed with the voters, not the politicians, in mind.
The voters weren’t in mind with this plan. Four-term Republican congressman Patrick McHenry let that be known before the maps were unveiled when he revealed N.C. GOP redistricting plans to pack minorities into a few districts to make surrounding districts more white and give Republicans an edge.
We had hoped for better from the Republicans, who had complained bitterly when Democrats for years manipulated voting districts for their own political advantage. Instead, intent on solidifying their power for the next decade, Republicans drew new maps to ensure that.
Such shenanigans once again highlight the need for a nonpartisan, independent commission to draw the lines. The legislature took a welcome step in that direction this year, with House passage of a proposal that would have legislative staff members, not elected legislators, draw the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts for the next remap in 2021. It’s based on an Iowa model that has worked well so far for that state.
The plan could have taken effect this year but lawmakers didn’t approve it. Now some Republican lawmakers who had favored the proposal are reportedly rethinking their stand. Apparently buoyed by Justice Department preclearance they’re no longer that interested in fair play.
They should be. And the public should press them to be. Naked partisanship in drawing voting lines has gone on too long. Democrats and Republicans are now both guilty. This editorial board pressed for change when Democrats were in power. We continue to press for it. Voters’ interests should come before politicians’ in any redistricting plan. An independent panel could help ensure that happens.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Tomorrow's editorial tonight: