If North Carolina legislators really want to end the legal quagmire that redistricting has become, they have plenty of options at their fingertips. A half dozen bills submitted this session in the state House and Senate offer pathways to what their sponsors depict as a less politicized process, capable of eliminating the alleged racial gerrymandering that has caused so much heartburn during the last six years. Choices on the table include turning the process over to nonpartisan bureaucrats, computer programmers and former judges. Or legislators could crank up a study commission to chart their escape from redistricting purgatory. But the potential remedies are all languishing in committee while successful lawsuits by aggrieved voters and activist groups force legislators to redraw voting maps dating to 2011, even as the decade’s end lurks just around the corner … when it’s almost time to begin a whole, new round of redistricting linked to the outcome of the next U.S. Census in 2020.
Democrats in Raleigh are united in favor of reform. But some leading Republicans who once championed the notion of getting politics out of the process now see it as a trap set by foes intent on stripping away their hard-won power.
“The pattern is that whichever party is in power, the leadership chooses not to take the bold step forward to reform,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina — the Raleigh-based activist group that has been urging redistricting reform for more than a decade through both Democrat and Republican dominance of state government.