Grass roots effort could change the face of politics

By Scott Mooneyham | Nov 14, 2013


RALEIGH -- I suppose the group that is going around the state advocating for a new, nonpartisan method to draw legislative and congressional districts is doing it the right way.


The Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform has been holding meetings around the state trying to generate some public interest in, and public pressure for, the idea that legislative and congressional maps drawn by the political party in power at the state legislature is bad for voters and bad for democracy.


As I wrote a few weeks ago, safe, gerrymandered districts, drawn earlier by Democrats and now by Republicans, cause more races to be decided in primaries. In doing so, more ideologues are elected to the state legislature and Congress, and moderate voices get drowned out.


The system also leaves those who are not ideologues subject to the whims of more strident primary voters.


So, some states have put in place nonpartisan redistricting commissions or created systems intended to keep considerations of party and incumbency out of the process.


That kind of reform is what the advocacy group holding these town hall meetings wants to see happen in North Carolina.


That result, though, depends on politicians giving up power.


There is another way: Voters could take matters into their own hands and try to wreck the system.


Right now, the gerrymandering depends on sophisticated computer mapping that examines voting and voter registration patterns down to the neighborhood level.


But what if the vast majority of registered Republicans and Democrats stopped registering as Republicans and Democrats, and instead registered as unaffiliated? What then for the mapmakers?


Currently, 26 percent of voters are registered as unaffiliated voters. What if that percentage were 60 or 70 percent, and what if there were no clear patterns regarding what the voting tendencies of those independents? In other words, what if their numbers were roughly evenly divided between conservatives, liberals and moderates?


Taking the anarchy a little further, what if everyone stopped recording their race on voter registration forms as well?


North Carolina law requires that voters fill out those forms truthfully.


But because I don't see "Scottish" among the race designations, maybe I should check  "Other." Or, maybe "Multiracial" is a better choice, as some scientists would argue that we all fall into that category once you trace things back about 200,000 years.


The map drawers might be able to look back beyond any mass movement by voters to stop being categorized. But how would that work out over time?


Yes, they would still have previous voting results by precinct and districts. And, with their sophisticated software and data, they would still have age and economic information.


But any uncertainty that voters could put into the process is all good.


If nothing else, the uncertainty might ratchet up the cost of these map-drawing exercises, meaning less money to spend on ridiculous campaign ads.


The politicians may believe they have all the power when it comes to electoral district map.


A little grassroots rebellion at least might cause them some worry.