Gerrymandering begets government dysfunction

By Brent Laurenz | Oct 21, 2013

RALEIGH - The government shutdown may have ended, but the bitter
partisanship and unwillingness to compromise that permeates our politics is
unlikely to disappear. Partisan gridlock and bickering has come to define
government for too many voters, justifiably leading to frustration and
outrage with the entire process.

The recent shutdown was merely the latest example of a political system that
seemingly gets uglier as the years go by. Political battles have defined our
nation since the dawn of our republic, but the intransigence of lawmakers
and their abdication of responsibility just led to a government stoppage of
more than two weeks.

Unfortunately, there is no single root cause of this problem. Voters can
point to the influence of money in the political process or the 24-hour news
cycle, but one of the most significant sources of our political headaches
today is gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering has been a tool to consolidate political power for centuries.
Used by both Democrats and Republicans alike, politicians use the
redistricting process after each census to draw state legislative and
congressional districts to favor the party in power.

In North Carolina, we saw Democrats do this for years to help maintain their
power in Raleigh. And after Republicans won control of the General Assembly
in 2010, they followed the same playbook. No matter which party is in power,
gerrymandering puts that power over the best interest of voters.

By drawing district boundaries to favor one party over the other, a vast
majority of districts end up being "safe" for one political party. That
means one party is a virtual lock to win elections in that district, which
leads to a lack of competition in campaigns and deprives voters of any real
choice on Election Day.

In addition, a lawmaker elected from one of these safe districts does not
have to worry about appealing to a broad cross section of moderate or
independent voters to succeed politically. Rather, their only real concern
becomes ensuring they do not face a primary challenge from the left or
right. As a result, you find lawmakers deeply entrenched on one side of the
political divide and unwilling to compromise on anything.

If legislative districts were drawn with the focus on voters' interests and
not political power we would produce more competitive districts, forcing
candidates and elected officials to speak to more than just the base of
their political party. In the end, this would not only give voters a real
say in who represents them, but it could also lead to a more
well-functioning government.

While taking politics out of redistricting may sound like a fantasy, it is
achievable. Several other states have already moved toward such a system and
here in North Carolina the idea enjoys broad, bipartisan support. Many
Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly, and civic leaders across
the state, have endorsed the idea of reforming the process to make it less

The next round of redistricting is still seven years away and even the best
political prognosticator has no idea which party will be in power when the
time comes to redraw legislative and congressional districts. So now is the
time to enact meaningful reform, take politics out of redistricting and
restore accountability to the political process.

Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education,
a Raleigh-based nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping
citizens fully participate in democracy.