Groups Call for Independent Redistricting Commission for N.C.

A diverse group of lawmakers and public interest groups wants the General Assembly to abandon its current redistricting process and use an independent commission to draw political maps.

“Fundamental to our system of government is the proposition that those elected should reflect the preferences of voters,” said Sen. Hamilton Horton, R-Forsyth. “But this idea is regularly thwarted by partisans who seek to skew elections in their party’s favor – what we call gerrymandering.”

Horton and Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, filed bills Monday that would create an independent commission to draw up new legislative and congressional district maps every 10 years. One of the bills would establish a constitutional amendment to ensure the commission operates into the future.

Horton and Kinnaird were joined at a news conference by members of several public policy groups to support the legislation, including The John Locke Foundation, Common Cause of North Carolina, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the N.C. State Grange.

The bill comes in response to a fight between Democrats and Republican over legislative districts that has lasted more than a year.

Legislative Republicans challenged House and Senate maps drawn by Democrats, claiming they unconstitutionally split counties to gain a political advantage. The case is still pending before the state Supreme Court, although Republicans won several rulings in lower and appellate courts.

Horton said the court fight is proof that an independent commission is needed.

“The events of the past year should convince us, if we are honest with ourselves, that the General Assembly is simply incapable of redistricting itself fairly,” he said.

Both bills introduced by Horton and Kinnaird call for creating a nine-member redistricting commission.

Members would be appointed by the governor, chief justice, House speaker and Senate president pro tem. Each would appoint two members, except for the governor, who would name three.

Each person making appointments would have to include appointees from more than one political party.

Chris Heagarty, director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, said an independent commission might do away with many of the lengthy lawsuits that result from redistricting after each census.

“It’s like the political equivalent of the seven-year locusts, except it only comes every 10 years,” Heagarty said.