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NC Lawmakers Reach Across Aisle to End Gerrymandering

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would establish a bipartisan committee to draw district lines following the 2020 Census, in an attempt to end gerrymandering. (Jimmy Emerson, Flickr)
Lawmakers are considering a bill that would establish a bipartisan committee to draw district lines following the 2020 Census, in an attempt to end gerrymandering. (Jimmy Emerson, Flickr)
April 4, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina has a long history of gerrymandering election districts, but small steps are being made by members of both parties to end the practice once and for all.

Today is the deadline for state senators to sign on to co-sponsor Senate Bill 554 that would create a Fair Redistricting Study Committee to ensure that 2020 House, Senate and congressional districts are drawn fairly for all citizens.

Chris Coughlin, a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law, explains the importance of such an effort.

"Because it's so hard for individuals who are of the party that's not in power to win in an area that's been unfairly gerrymandered for political purposes, you don't get contested races, and when you don't get contested races we tend to see more ultra-partisan individuals win," she explained.

Twenty-two other states have adopted similar bipartisan redistricting committees. A Washington Post analysis found that North Carolina is home to three of the 10 most-gerrymandered districts in the country.

A survey by Public Policy Polling released in January found that 59 percent of voters in the state support drawing district lines in a nonpartisan fashion, with just 15 percent specifically opposed to it.

While North Carolina Republicans redrew districts from the 2010 Census in favor of their party, historically state Democrats also have participated in the practice when they've been in the majority.

Coughlin says it's important to end the practice - regardless of who is in power.

"People need to understand that this isn't all just Republicans," she said. "This has been happening in our state for decades. The pendulum is going to swing back, so at some point, we just need to have a fair and independent system."

Aside from assuring equal representation, cost is another factor. As of last August, the state had spent more than three and a half million dollars defending the most recent redistricting lawsuits.

Currently, the bill's main sponsors are Sen. Angela Bryant of Halifax, Nash, Vance, Warren and Wilson counties, Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham and Granville counties, and Sen. Gladys Robinson of Guilford County.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC