District divisions affect election

Maksym Kosachevskyy, Staff Writer

March 25, 2016

In February, a court ruling threw out two racially gerrymandered North Carolina districts. Since then, Republican legislators have made these dragon-shaped and triangle-shaped areas into solid political boundaries similar to state lines in the western United States.

In doing so, however, they also initiated many unintended consequences.

“Federal judges said that the district lines were unconstitutional because they relied too much on race,” said Associate Professor of Political Science Maria Rosales in an email interview. “That this is all happening so close to the election makes it very messy. For example, some people had already mailed in their absentee ballots. And, of course, changing districts this late means printing new ballots, which is expensive.”

In fact, according to The News & Observer, the cost to hold a second statewide primary election is between $5-10 million.

To make sure there was enough time to print new ballots, mail absentee ballots and hold a new congressional candidate filing period, the primaries for congressional races were moved to a later date: June 9. This, in itself, raised many concerns.

“Increasing the number of elections not only increases the cost of running elections but also requires voters to vote more than one time,” said Professor of Political Science Kyle Dell in an email interview. “Voters that experience hardship and lost opportunity costs for taking time off to vote will have added costs of voting twice instead of voting once.”

According to state Rep. David Lewis, “race was not considered” when choosing the new districts. And, on the outside, the map does seem to be drawn in this fashion.

Instead of branching out, District 1 lost its arms, which initially reached out to black voters. District 12 melted into Mecklenburg County, dropping from a 51.1 percent black majority to around a 30 percent minority.

When looked at through a critical lens, however, things are not as clear as they seem.

“Spreading out voters of color across more districts would increase their power statewide but would also make incumbents of color in Districts 1 and 12 more vulnerable to challenges from the Republicans as each district would have a population that more closely mirrors the state as a whole,” said Dell.

The incumbents for the 13th and 4th Districts would also unwillingly become roommates, living in the same proposed district, should the new legislative map be approved.

Numerous institutions have protested against the redistricting, including North Carolina A&T University, whose campus was evenly divided between the 6th and 13th Districts.

At the heart of these troubles lies one thing: gerrymandering. It is widely agreed upon that gerrymandering is a corrupt practice, attempting to keep one party in power.

“People have to work together to try to make certain that everyone is being represented or at least that there is a balance in representation between different groups of people,” said first-year Sojourner Davidson.

“We need to make it harder for districts to be changed to make sure that people are not changing the lines just so their party will win.”

Despite this, it seems like the practice has no signs of slowing down.

“I think gerrymandering is undemocratic, but the way we’ve designed our political system — first-past-the-post elections, state legislatures drawing district lines, etc. — makes it very likely that it will continue to be part of U.S. politics,” said Rosales.

North Carolina is not the only state that racially gerrymanders. Virginia legislators are currently under fire for the same practice.

When race is removed from the equation, however, almost every state is guilty of unfair redistricting. That is the reality voters are faced with.

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