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Redistricting Reform's Future in 2013

By Katie Sparrow

RALEIGH - Lawmakers new and old will certainly have their plates full on Jan. 30. The barrage of front-burner issues seems endless as sides jockey for authority over tax reform, unemployment insurance, the Affordable Care Act and the state budget.

Floating in the sea of priorities is an issue that, while not on the tip of everyone’s tongue, certainly plays a hand in the future of North Carolina politics – redistricting.

Little known amongst the public, legislators are in charge of “updating” their own districts alongside each U.S. Census.

Not surprisingly, what should be adjusted according to population growth and demographic shifts are normally turned into a game of political gain referred to as gerrymandering, played by both Democrats and Republicans alike. Objective district lines morph into carve-outs where friends are strangely drawn into constituencies and opponents cut out, sealing political victories for redistricting lawmakers.

Ludicrous, right? The Tar Heel State isn’t alone, though. Redistricting has led to partisan domination in states including Florida, Michigan and Texas.

There are silver linings. For instance, Iowa has legislated into action independent redistricting committees – appointed staff members shielded from political influence and left to their expertise to adjust district lines based on facts and law alone. Great idea! While many North Carolina legislators see the value in this model, redistricting unfortunately only becomes a priority when it’s too late.

The legislative class of 2013 has the opportunity to change redistricting for the better. There are champions in office now who understand the broken system and are committed to fixing it. Their initiative needs to be encouraged and supported by community stakeholders or momentum runs the risk of being lost as time slips by and immediate issues take priority.

The next census may seem far away, but fair lines are something that both parties will be thankful for – no matter who is in charge.


Katie Sparrow is director of policy & outreach for the N.C. Center for Voter Education.