A North Carolina state senate district recently sprouted a mysterious new appendage that just happens to encompass a lawmaker’s second home. The extension, and the bipartisan approval it won in the GOP-led state legislature, is a classic example of the backroom dealing that happens when lawmakers are allowed to draw their own legislative boundaries.
A little background: North Carolina Republicans redrew all of the state’s legislative maps in 2011, following the 2010 Census. Democrats immediately cried foul, contending that the maps were drawn with the express purpose of solidifying Republicans’ hold on power in the state.
Technically speaking, the term for this is gerrymandering — deliberately drawing legislative districts in a way that benefits your party (if you need a brief visual primer on how it works, read this). In North Carolina, the specific issue is racial gerrymandering, as Democrats have alleged Republicans intentionally diluted the political clout of black voters when they drew the maps.
Courts, by and large, have agreed. Earlier this year, a panel of federal judges tossed out the 2011 maps and told the legislature to draw new ones by Sept. 1. Lawmakers recently wrapped up their new district plans and are submitting them to the judges for approval. Critics say the new plans are just as racially gerrymandered, in their own way, as the old maps.
But allowing legislatures to draw their own boundaries invites and encourages self-interested behavior among legislators: Republicans and Democrats get together to divvy up a state’s voters with a primary aim of protecting incumbents across the board
The North Carolina district with the brand new appendage vividly illustrates the point. At issue is the border, in the Fayetteville area, between Senate District 21, held by Democrat Ben Clark, and Senate District 19, home to Republican Wesley Meredith. The …read more