Voting rights and race have always mattered. Just a few hours ago, breaking news reported that three federal judges ruled Congressional District 1, led by Congressman GK Butterfield, and Congressional District 12, led by Representative Alma Adams, were gerrymandered along racial lines and ordered them redrawn in two weeks. The decision by the three-judge panel will have an enormous impact on the upcoming primaries in North Carolina. With so much at stake, the Republican Party, as reported, will challenge the judges’ ruling.
Everyday citizens looking in on the process find the set of events of the past hours confusing and unsettling. With majority minority communities already skeptical and distrustful of the electoral process, the three-judge findings exacerbate mistrust. From a “corner store” point of view in rural Northeastern, NC, US District Judge Max Cogburn states it best. “Elections should be decided through a contest of issues, not skillful mapmaking,” U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn wrote in a concurring opinion. “Today, modern computer mapping allows for gerrymandering on steroids, as political mapmakers can easily identify individual registrations on a house-by-house basis, mapping their way to victory.”
Convincing northeast communities to exercise their right to vote will be an even tougher sell. How do we defeat apathy and the already-held belief that their votes don’t matter? Structuring the way votes are delivered is as important as being given the right to vote. To consider the right to vote without challenging maps and drawings and how groups of counties and communities are clustered falls short of the promise of a fair and just democracy. Our political participation in the northeast rests on advocacy and our ability to sell trust even though challenging voter dilution in the courts is not new.
According to an article written by Katharine Butler of the Louisiana Law Review entitled Constitutional and Statutory Challenges to Election Structures: Dilution and the Value of the Right to Vote, she makes the following case, “…Access to the ballot does not always provide meaningful political participation for blacks.” She continued, “The right to vote is meaningful when a voter can join his vote with those of like-minded others in the pursuit of common goals. Properly conceived, the dilution plaintiffs’ claim is that the election structure when superimposed upon racially oriented politics produces a situation that deprives them of the benefit of their numbers in the political process. They are thus deprived of the value of voting.” Her article “responds to the Supreme Court’s treatment of minority entitlement and the right to vote in the dilution situation.” http://digitalcommons.law.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4650&context=lalrev
The voting rights act of 1965 was critical to sustaining the integrity of the voting process. It gave trust a chance. When SCOTUS struck down section 4 of Section 5, a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (presupposing that we were a “post–racial” nation with many citing the evidence of the country’s first African American President) states, such as North Carolina that had to have preclearance before changing voting districts, were allowed to redraw without oversight.
So, now we face the fruit of striking down a key protection that counties and communities in the northeast really need.
As we wait to see how the General Assembly responds to the judge’s ruling for them to redraw lines in two weeks, here’s a reminder…your vote matters. You can weigh in and voice your support for alternative redistricting processes that all people can believe in. It’s time to do away with costly legal challenges and simply allow for “real” choices. Here is a statement made by Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “For years, partisan gerrymandering has led to costly litigation and deprived North Carolina voters of having a real choice and a voice in our elections…Fortunately, a growing number of citizens and leaders across the political spectrum agree that North Carolina should adopt an independent redistricting process.”