North Carolina is defending itself against four lawsuits regarding racial and partisan gerrymandering in the drawing of its election maps. Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear one of them. As these court cases continue to play out another movement for non-partisan redistricting in the state has surfaced.
"We've arrived at a pivotal moment for our state and for redistricting reform. Uncertainty is everywhere," Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson County, said last week in announcing a nonpartisan redistricting bill.
It was actually the second bill of that type he sponsored in the past two weeks. He spoke to WFAE Morning Edition host Lisa Worf. Here’s a transcript of their conversation:.
Lisa Worf: So lawmakers have long talked about nonpartisan redistricting. Why do you think you have a shot at it now?
Rep. McGrady: Well because the political climate is different and unstable. You referenced the lawsuits that are pending. I think most legislators don't want redistricting done by some federal court or some state court. Moreover, no one's really sure who's going to be in charge in 2020. And so my hope is that at a point in time when Republicans aren't sure they're going to be doing redistricting and Democrats aren't sure they'll be doing redistricting that they'll come together for the least problematical way of dealing with it and that is make it nonpartisan.
Lisa Worf: Are you hearing that sentiment from other lawmakers, from voters?
Rep. McGrady: I'm hearing it certainly from voters, constituents who just are frustrated with it. We spent a decade. We're one of the most litigious redistricting states in the United States. I'm certainly hearing it from my colleagues who recognize that if we don't do something about this either the courts will or potentially, their adversaries - whichever party - will be in charge of redistricting next time. I've always thought that this session, the one immediately before the census and when we got to do redistricting statewide is the sort of prime time for passing such a bill.
Lisa Worf: You now have two bills on the table and one would give the authority to a commission of citizens to draw the lines. And this latest one entails a constitutional amendment that would keep those decisions in the Legislature. So why the two approaches>.
Rep. McGrady: To give my colleagues and leadership different options. I sometimes hear from from legislators that there's nothing you know nonpartisan about a commission, 'That won't work. We're giving up know our responsibility.' Well then the constitutional amendment doesn't do that at all. The maps would be drawn by legislative staff. The difference being that they can't take into account partisan data. You know there's advantages to both approaches, and I just wanted to get out there with different ways of getting to the same end.
Lisa Worf: As you said one thought about a commission is that, you know, what's nonpartisan? It depends on how partisan its members are. So whether it's lawmakers or legislators who are making the calls, how do you ensure that the process is nonpartisan?
Rep. McGrady: Well the constitutional amendment approach, you know states - what data can be used to draw the maps - and if you don't allow data related to partisanship, including where incumbents live or challengers live or the types of information that you know computers now can generate that will give you a really good understanding of which way you in this neighborhood is likely to vote, if that's part of the process and it's a very transparent process you're not going to be able to get there.
Similarly with the commission the approach here is to make everything very transparent. And the commission approach is the one that used in Iowa. It's noteworthy that they haven't had a lot of lawsuits and they've had plenty of contested elections. Either of these approaches could work. The advantage of one I guess is that it it can be enacted by the General Assembly and it would only take 60-some odd votes in the House. The advantage of the other one, while it takes more votes, it's in the (state) Constitution. And so next year's Legislature, next session's Legislature, can't come back and quickly change at all.
Lisa Worf: You said that most Republicans have supported nonpartisan redistricting since they gained the majority in the statehouse. Why didn't Republicans just do it since they're in charge?
Rep. McGrady: Why didn't Democrats do it when they were in charge? You can hardly find a Democrat today that doesn't support non-partisan redistricting. But when they were in charge the Republicans were for it and the Democrats didn't allow it to move. Then Republicans came to be in charge. They're in the majority. And suddenly things have flipped. And the reason why it's sort of different right now is we're coming up on the next census. Neither side knows who's going to be in charge. That's the real opportunity.
Lisa Worf: Who do you have to convince now to make this happen?
Rep. McGrady: Ultimately it's leadership. Leadership's got to allow the bill to be heard in committee. I think lawyers representing leadership both in both the Senate and the House recognize where we are and I fully suspect that they are telling my leadership that you may want to try to solve this problem before somebody else solves it for you.