Ending gerrymandering could be the 'big fix'
RALEIGH – Our nation is still feeling the aftershocks of last year's deeply contentious presidential election. Political polarization seems as intense as it's ever been in modern times. Many of us may want to simply throw our hands up in disgust, disconnect from the rancor and step away from the political scene entirely.
But in reality, it's never been more important for concerned citizens from across the political spectrum to get engaged and get involved in being part of the solution to our seemingly broken political system.
One of the driving forces behind the partisan squabbling and polarization we see in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., is gerrymandering — the practice of politicians manipulating voting maps to unfairly favor their own party.
The scourge of gerrymandering is hardly new, nor are its damaging effects on our democracy. Since 1992, nearly half of North Carolina's legislative races have had just one candidate on the ballot, due mainly to gerrymandered voting maps.
In addition to depriving voters of a choice in our elections, gerrymandered districts create a situation where politicians have more incentive to cater to the extreme fringes of their own party than they do to move to the middle. In turn, "compromise" has become a dirty word.
If we want a political system that encourages problem-solving and accountability in government, then we need a better way of drawing our voting maps.
Supporting fair redistricting shouldn't be just a Republican or only a Democratic issue. In fact, President Ronald Reagan supported independent redistricting when he was in the White House, as did President Barack Obama. Here in North Carolina, governors from both parties have called for an end to gerrymandering.
In a day of such seemingly deep division, one thing voters on either side of the political aisle agree on is that we need to take the power of drawing voting maps out of the hands of partisan politicians and give it to an impartial body. A survey in January from Public Policy Polling found just that, with a strong majority of North Carolina voters favoring nonpartisan redistricting -- a trend that holds across party lines.
Both parties have been guilty of gerrymandering. Now both parties can be part of the fix. But it will take citizens throughout our state standing up and demanding reform in order to get our lawmakers to take note and take action.
That's why a broad coalition of North Carolinians is convening at the NC Legislature in Raleigh on March 1 for the Citizens Lobby Day to End Gerrymandering. The lobby day is an excellent opportunity for the public to speak directly to their state lawmakers and urge them to enact independent redistricting.
Citizens not able to make it to Raleigh are encouraged to lobby from home and contact their legislators by phone or email to express support for fair voting maps.
Hundreds of North Carolinians have already committed to coming to Raleigh on March 1 to stand up for independent redistricting, and all are invited to add their voice to the call for reform. More information on the Citizens Lobby Day to End Gerrymandering is available at EndGerrymanderingNow.org.
Nothing will change unless we the people stand together and say that we want a nonpartisan redistricting process that puts the rights of citizens ahead of partisan politics. On March 1, North Carolinians will speak loud and clear to the legislature that it's time to end gerrymandering now and get to work repairing our democracy.
Bryan Warner is a member of Common Cause North Carolina, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging citizen participation in democracy.