There are compelling reasons why politicians, when redrawing district lines, should not bunch and start over.
— Constituents don’t look kindly on being moved out of the district that the person they voted for — or even against — represents.
— Redistricting is confusing to voters, who often end up at the wrong poll sites on Election Day, which we know happened more than once during the recent municipal election in Lumberton.
— And finally, because the existing district lines have already passed legal muster, tweaking them offers a better chance of a nod from the U.S. Department of Justice than a complete makeover.
All that said, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners is guilty as charged: The commissioners adopted district lines on Monday that favor their own re-election, although the odds for some commissioners are better than they are for others. Even when stacking the deck, there is no perfect formula, especially in a county with our racial diversity.
But the most vocal critic of the commissioners, the Robeson County chapter of the NAACP, didn’t enter the fray with clean hands. The chapter and an entity recently created and cleverly named the Unified Robeson County Redistricting Committee offered up a set up maps with a clear agenda, and that was to replace Jerry Stephens as the commissioner who is representing District 1. So unanimous support from the commissioners for its proposed maps was not something the local NAACP was seeking.
Stephens wasn’t pleased, and went on the offensive, challenging the idea that the NAACP and the Unified Robeson County Redistricting Committee had put the maps together based on “community” input, saying he was a member of the community, and no one told him of any meetings concerning redistricting.
Perhaps a better strategy by the NAACP and the Unified Robeson County Redistricting Committee would have been to redraw maps that left each commissioner in the district he now represents.
The process the commissioner used, however, is deserving of criticism. They floated the idea as recently as late last week of adding a ninth district, which would have changed the racial balance on the board, always a big deal in a county where the race card comes off the top of the deck. That idea never gained traction, but on Monday the commissioners continued to tweak maps that would be approved just hours later, without the opportunity for a hard look by interested county residents.
Allison Riggs, an attorney for the Coalition for Social Justice in Durham who attended the meeting, called it the “worst” redistricting process she had ever seen.
“I have never seen a case where a map is just completed, a public hearing is held, and a vote is taken to enact a plan immediately,” she said.
The final say is that of the U.S. Department of Justice, but there is no reason to expect anything other than the maps will be approved.
The lesson? Redistricting, like making sausage, isn’t pretty, and those who oppose gerrymandering would do so themselves if they carried the clout.