On the outskirts of Charlotte, it’s the last day of early voting for the congressional race in North Carolina’s 12th district at the Mountain Island library, and there are no lines for the polling stations. Instead, volunteers outnumbered the voters. It was early voting time, but not for a race nearly as high-profile as the presidential election. Only 266 people turned out in June to the polls to pick the district’s next member of Congress. After the election, once all the votes were tallied, only 7% of more than 500,000 registered voters cast ballots. “Turnout was very, very low,” said Carol Johnson, a poll worker and an employee for the city of Charlotte. “Maybe people didn’t know. Maybe they weren’t interested.” Or maybe people have grown disenfranchised after living in what has long been considered the most gerrymandered district in the United States. Twenty-five years ago, North Carolina lawmakers drew the 12th district, creating the second majority-minority district in a state with a dark history of denying black residents their voting rights. That line-drawing is what is known as gerrymandering, or manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts to favor a particular result.
The district’s borders were long and narrow – so stretched out that it took a two-hour drive from Charlotte, passing through Winston-Salem and Greensboro, before ending in Durham. Naturally, it became known as the I-85 district because, as state representative Mickey Michaux, a Democrat from Durham, once put it: “If you drove down the interstate with both car doors open, you’d kill most of the people in the district.”
… Opponents of gerrymandering fear the voices of voters may be washed out in the upcoming presidential election, even as statewide restrictions that have been intensively litigated pose potentially more direct obstacles to voting. This coming term, the US supreme court will review the long-running battle over line-drawing.