The continuing saga of gerrymandering in North Carolina is back in the headlines. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in McCrory v. Harris, the case challenging the state’s U.S. Congressional districts. Last week, in Covington v. North Carolina, the U.S. District Court in Greensboro ordered the General Assembly back to the drawing board for the state House and Senate, with special elections in new districts next Fall.
In each case, the legal challenge was based on the use of race as a predominant factor in drawing district lines. But even if the General Assembly can refrain from racial gerrymandering (or at least be less flagrant about it), nobody doubts that the Republican majority will once again draw maps that favor their party, just as past Democratic majorities did.
The legal status of gerrymandering for partisan advantage is unsettled. In a recent decision that the state’s legislative districts illegally entrenched the current Republican majority. The case is headed to the Supreme Court, which until now has not decided whether partisan gerrymandering is constitutionally suspect.
One proposed solution to the problem of partisan gerrymandering is to take redistricting out of the hands of the General Assembly and place it in the hands of a non-partisan commission. That’s a good idea. Allowing legislators to entrench themselves in tailor-made districts undermines democracy, by turning elections into an empty farce.
Another change worth considering is replacing the current system of winner-take-all single-member districts with a system of multi-member districts and proportional voting. This would help remedy partisan gerrymandering, by giving some representation to electoral minorities (whether defined by race, ideology, or other interests) within each district. It could also open up electoral possibilities for candidates from outside the two established parties, something many voters say they desire.