North Carolinians can vote however they want in their Super Tuesday primary election, but one thing’s fairly sure: Many of those Tar Heel votes aren’t going to count. Last month, a federal three-judge panel found that Republicans drew two of the state’s congressional districts illegally, packing more black voters into districts where they already had a plurality, thus boosting Republican odds by “bleaching” surrounding districts. The result is, pretty much everyone agrees, a mess. The congressional candidates are still on the ballot along with the presidential and local candidates. But all the congressional votes will not be counted, and a new congressional primary with the new districts is scheduled for June 7.
North Carolina is not alone in its troubles. A flurry of recent federal court cases has raised questions about whether states have drawn their districts fairly. The 271-year-old gerrymander, long a symbol of crass political partisanship, is under mounting scrutiny.
While redistricting doesn’t top most voters’ list of priorities, the effects of gerrymandering are starting to seep into voter frustrations, experts say. Outsiders like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have railed against a system they say is “rigged.” And in a nation where 405 of the 435 House seats are considered safe for the incumbent, gerrymandering is perhaps the most blatant example of a rising feeling of voter impotence.
“Americans may not look at redistricting and say, ‘This is really what’s wrong with our democracy,’ but they will say, ‘I think the system is rigged,’ and they’re right – the system is rigged because of partisan gerrymandering,” says Gerry Hebert, a former acting chief of the Voting Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “Many voters don’t realize that the election has already been decided” before they cast their vote.