For our latest “Voices & Choices” podcast, Kathay Feng, national redistricting director for Common Cause, sat down with Nancy Lavin, FairVote staff writer, to talk about the Supreme Court’s review of partisan gerrymandering in Maryland and North Carolina, the latter of which includes Common Cause as a plaintiff. Feng will also detail her motivation for a career in electoral reform and how ranked choice voting fits in with efforts to ensure fair and representative district drawing.
The following is an excerpt from that interview, slightly edited for clarity.
Lavin: Common Cause is one of the plaintiffs in the North Carolina case, so why don’t you tell us a little more about that case first.
Feng: What's interesting is that they were open and brazen about it.
They passed a law that cemented the criteria by which they were going to draw these maps that included a criteria of a partisan advantage. And they said in an open hearing that their advantage was for Republicans, and they drew a map that would be 10 Republican congressional members to three Democratic congressional members only because they tried for 11-2 and they just couldn't make it work. So they had established on the record that they were not only drawing a map for a partisan advantage but the maximum possible.
North Carolina as a state has consistently voted 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans on all of their statewide elections on their issues and so what is interesting is that, despite that relatively even balance between voters, the legislature and specifically the majority party decided that they needed to give themselves an extreme advantage.
The basis of the case is really to say ...is that constitutional or not? The Supreme Court has said consistently over the past few years that partisan gerrymandering is wrong. It's an anathema to our democracy but they just haven't figured out the right test case or the right standard. We believe that the North Carolina case is the right case for them to draw that line.
Lavin: As you mentioned the Supreme Court has never taken a strong side against partisan gerrymandering. What would the implications be if they choose to - or if they choose not to - rule against this?
Feng: If the Supreme Court decides to rule against the partisan gerrymander in North Carolina and Maryland, it would send a clear message for state legislatures... that there are actually ballots that they cannot disregard, demographics of a state they can't disregard, and all of the other traditional redistricting criteria in order to create a partisan advantage when they're drawing the lines for either the state legislature or Congress.
That would be the most important part because then we would start to see districts that are being drawn that follow ...representative democracy.
And that starts with thinking about lines that respect communities, lines that allow people to be able to elect candidates of their choice and ultimately produce representatives who are going to be responsive to their constituents….
The easy way that a lot of people who've been involved in this movement say this is that elections should be about voters choosing our politicians and not the other way around.
If the Supreme Court decides not to say anything on these two cases, unfortunately given the closeness of timing to the upcoming redistricting process, it could be essentially open hunting season where you no longer have any rules that govern or try to restrict what a legislature can do when it comes to trying to seek a partisan advantage.
Illustration by Mikhaila Markham