North Carolina: When the Seats Don’t Reflect the Votes

Posted by Maya Efrati on November 08, 2016

With the preliminary results out in North Carolina, we once again see the extent of the state’s unfair partisan gerrymandering in congressional and legislative elections. Preliminary results show that Hillary Cllinton and Donald Trump are neck and neck, while at the same time Republicans will retain control of its congressional delegation, winning a very predictable ten of its thirteen districts.

North Carolina is a key swing-state: both Presidential candidates spent significant time campaigning in the state in the final few days of the election. North Carolina narrowly voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and then Mitt Romney in 2012. And for the 2016, polling has been within the margin of error, and showing an extremely close race, for most of the final months of the election.

Yet all of the state’s congressional legislative offices are dominated by a large majority of Republicans. FairVote has determined that only one of North Carolina’s districts is competitive in any real way; the rest are likely wins or simply safe districts. Could it be that voters in North Carolina prefer Democratic presidential candidates, or are at least evenly split between them, but at the same time vote overwhelmingly for Republican Congressional representatives? The facts say no.

The question of redistricting in North Carolina has been incredibly contentious. Several years ago, North Carolina’s Republican-dominated legislature approved one of the nation’s most extreme partisan gerrymanders, and since then the state’s redistricting process has been mired in the courts. An attempt to enact a massive set of new voting restrictions, including a strict voter ID law, and reduced or eliminated the state’s early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and pre-registration practices, was halted by a federal court. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit wrote that the Republican-led legislature intentionally “target[ed] African-Americans with almost surgical precision… [and] impose cures for problems that did not exist,” and made a finding of intentional racial discrimination. Finally, a voter purge this past year removed 6,000 previously registered voters from the rolls, with President Obama, at a rally for Secretary Clinton, noting that “[t]he list of voters Republicans tried to purge was two-thirds black and Democratic. That didn’t happen by accident.”

These distortions and battles have serious consequences both for the quality of North Carolinians representation and electoral integrity. Ongoing legal actions attacking North Carolina’s blatant partisan gerrymandering may help. However, to fully represent the spectrum of North Carolina’s voters, we need to move beyond single-winner districts. FairVote proposes a model Fair Representation Act for Congress that would do just that. Under the Fair Representation Act, North Carolina would elect its Members in three larger multi-winner districts with ranked choice voting. This approach would much better reflect North Carolina’s voters, while also putting every North Carolina voter into a meaningfully competitive electoral environment.

 

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