Gerrymandering puts November congressional election in doubt

The Republican-led General Assembly has made such a mess of congressional redistricting that, with 10 weeks to go before the general election, all the roads to a satisfactory solution appear to be blocked.

One option appears unworkable because of the time crunch, and that would be to quickly redraw the districts, reopen filing, and hold the primaries on Nov. 6 and the general election soon afterward. That would in essence give a mulligan to U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whose 9th District includes all of Robeson County. Pittenger lost the May 8 Republican primary to Mark Harris.

Other options are unpalatable, which are to allow an election with districts that have been declared unconstitutional, or delay them until the courts can sort out the mess, which would take who knows how long and leave this state without representation in Congress.

How did we get here?

Republicans, denied control through the power of gerrymandering for more than a century, finally seized control of the General Assembly and decided to redraw districts to their advantage, which had plenty of precedent, but they simply went too far.

Robeson County, as bad luck would have it, was a victim of all this nonsense, first being placed into a District 7 that made Mike McIntyre, an effective advocate for this county for nine terms, unlikely to win re-election, so he left in 2015 without seeking a 10th term. Then when lines were redrawn by court order in 2016, this county got placed in District 9, which stretched westward to include part of Charlotte, putting us in a district with many counties without a shared interest.

Republicans, drunk with power, followed a difficult-to-disguise formula of lumping blacks, faithful Democratic voters, into a few districts to deplete their voting strength elsewhere. In fact, Republicans haven’t even denied their intent, which testifies toward their collective hubris. The result has been that North Carolina has 10 Republican representatives in the U.S. House and Democrats just three — which doesn’t match this state’s purple color.

The courts have said that the districts violate the First Amendment and interfered with voters rights by drawing districts to favor a particular party or even candidate.

So where to from here?

Republicans are trying to get the courts to allow the election to proceed as scheduled, and that actually appears the most likely outcome because the Supreme Court has been reluctant to interfere with elections that are coming soon. But what happens after that is anyone’s guess.

The whole mess is certainly bound for the Supreme Court, but when it will get there is another unknown.

This is why we have advocated in the past and will again today that voting districts be drawn not by the controlling party, which is always motivated by self-preservation, but by a non-partisan panel that is more likely to lean in the direction of equity.

But for that to happen, the controlling party has to make the decision to cede the power of drawing district lines. Therein lies the problem. And we can assure you, if the shoes were switched in Raleigh, Democrats would be reluctant to cede the power that comes with drawing districts.

Stay tuned: Much more is to come. And given the urgency, it shouldn’t be too long before there is some clarity.