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Re-enfranchising NC voters by @BloggersRUs

Re-enfranchising NC voters

by Tom Sullivan

At 49.2 percent, the 2018 election was on average the highest midterm turnout in over a century, by Ed Kilgore's reckoning. As many as 39 U.S. House seats could flip to Democrats when ballot counting is done. With Rep. Jeff Denham's (R-CA) loss in California's 10th District, the Democrats' count now stands at 34.

Even with historic turnout, there were no turnovers in North Carolina which since 2011 has lived with some of the most egregiously GOP gerrymandering in the country, not only in federal districts but state House and Senate districts as well. Voting rights advocates have won challenges against them all, but court cases have dragged on since the last census. Democrats gained state legislative seats in 2018, but the GOP held its majorities in both North Carolina chambers. The U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority is unlikely to strike down partisan gerrymanders in the new session, so the fate of state congressional districts ruled unconstitutional gerrymanders by a panel of federal judges may stand for the last election of the ten-year cycle.

Voting rights advocates have taken another tack with state districts. Mark Joseph Stern writes at Slate:

On Tuesday, one week after the midterm election, Common Cause and the North Carolina Democratic Party brought a lawsuit on behalf of multiple voters in the state alleging that the current partisan gerrymander is unlawful under the state constitution. Their complaint illustrates, in painstaking detail, how GOP mapmakers “packed” Democratic voters into a handful of deep-blue districts, then distributed the remainder of Democrats across safe Republican districts, where their votes wouldn’t matter. They “cracked” cities into multiple mangled districts, pulling in rural Republican regions to diminish Democratic votes.
The cited examples are standard fare for districts drawn under the GOP REDMAP program. But by attacking the state districts as unconstitutional under the state constitution, advocates may have a firmer case, Stern argues:
The North Carolina Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause is more robust than its federal counterpart, guaranteeing citizens “substantially equal voting power” and “the right to vote on equal terms.” It also commands that “[a]ll elections shall be free”—that is, not manipulated by the state to predetermine the outcome.
This case ultimately will go before a North Carolina Supreme Court state Republicans have so far been unable to manipulate to their advantage through election tricks and traps. Democrats gained two seats on the court in the last two general elections. They now hold a 5-2 majority with the election last week of civil rights attorney Anita Earls.

Stern notes as well that while the ruling against the federal gerrymander likely will not survive SCOTUS review next year, a followup state challenge might succeed in time for approval of new congressional seats by the 2020 election. Success with both cases could hand state control back to Democrats in time for 2021 redistricting. (There are already Democratic pledges to support independent redistricting should that happen.) Given fair congressional districts in 2020, Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows (NC-11) will need to start packing up his office.