Earlier this week I looked at a court decision in North Carolina which threatened to throw the midterm elections in that state into a top hat. After the GOP once again gerrymandered their congressional maps nearly to death in 2016, a court challenge resulted in their having to draw up a new map. After the map was challenged, the Supreme Court heard the case and ordered the court to take a fresh look at the new district lines, but they came to the same conclusion in August and ordered the state to draw a better map. But with the primaries already over and the ballots on hold for the general election, nobody seemed quite sure how they were going to comply with the court’s order.
By the end of this week, even the Democrats opposing the map seemed to have thrown up their hands and given up. At this point, the ballots are going to the printer and they’re just going to have to make do with the map they have until 2020. (Washington Post)
The plaintiffs who persuaded federal judges to declare unconstitutional North Carolina’s Republican-drawn congressional maps have “reluctantly concluded” that there is not enough time to draw new maps in time for the November elections.
A three-judge panel ruled this week that the maps were an “invidious” plan to favor Republicans over Democrats and had resulted in the GOP capturing 10 of the state’s 13 congressional districts in 2016, even though its share of the statewide vote was just over 53 percent…
“After careful consultation, particularly with the institutional clients Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and the North Carolina Democratic Party, plaintiffs have reluctantly concluded that — on the unique facts presented here — attempting to impose a new districting plan in time for the 2018 election would be too disruptive and potentially counterproductive,” their lawyers said in a brief filed with the court.
Sad to say, but this was really the only practical decision to make unless they somehow thought they could delay their elections until next year. (Causing more problems than they’re dealing with now in the process.) The Democrats have grounds to be upset because the North Carolina GOP has hacked up the map pretty much as badly as the Democrats hack up the maps in the states where they control the process. But with the Supreme Court already having cast a rather jaundiced eye on this particular map, asking them to step in at this late date yet again and shut down the process could have created an even worse situation.
The problem with the gerrymandering question isn’t whether it’s being done. It’s the fact that both parties are doing it without the least hint of embarrassment. And since they’re both doing it, nobody wants to be the ones to take the first step and draw objectively unbiased maps, giving up seats in the process while the other party hangs onto all theirs. And since this process is controlled at the state level, there is no national, one-size-fits-all remedy to be applied.
Unless the state representatives from both parties all across the nation got together and agreed on a new plan to be implemented simultaneously, I still fail to see a way out of this trap. Computer algorithms could produce a truly random map by starting at one corner of each state and expanding districts evenly until the proper share of the population is reached, then beginning again until the entire state is covered. But you won’t get all the states agreeing to this for two reasons. First of all, there are rules in place which say that certain districts have to be “minority majority” which throws off the balance of a truly randomized map. And second, when you add up all the areas controlled by each party under randomized maps, one party would “win” and the other would “lose” in terms of how many seats they wound up with. The losing party will never agree to such a plan.
North Carolina will no doubt have a new map in time for the 2020 congressional elections. Will it be any better than this one? Don’t count on it.