When Mrs. Powel asked Benjamin Franklin at the end of the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787 what sort of government they had created, he replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
A “democratic republic” he meant. A democratic republic literally means “Public Thing of The People” from its Latin and Greek derivations.
It does not mean “Public Thing Run By A Few People.”
America is a “representative democracy” where free people get to elect representatives who then go to Washington, D.C., and state and local assemblies to vote on our collective behalf.
The founders wanted to create a connection — a fabric of democracy, if you will — between all voters and all elected representatives. All of them. Not just a few.
Had the founders wanted to delegate representational redistricting and reapportionment duties to a few select people, they would have put it in Article II or III of the Constitution, not Article I which outlines legislative powers, not executive or judicial powers.
Voters used to have the assurance that the person they voted for in the first election of each decade to represent them in Washington or Raleigh would be the same person, if repeatedly elected, they could vote for during the next four elections before the next census.
That went by the wayside in North Carolina in 1981 when new districts were drawn under the Voting Rights Act by Democratic majorities in the NCGA. Congressional maps that would make Picasso proud were drawn to protect Democrat incumbents and allow minorities a better chance to get elected in one of those Democrat districts.
Gerrymandering in North Carolina did not start with Republicans in 2011. In 1980, Democrats held nine of the 11 Congressional seats in North Carolina. The only reason they didn’t have 11 Democrats in Congress was because they packed as many Republicans as possible in the 9th and 10th districts to get them out of the other nine districts to protect Democrat majorities.
Starting in the 1980s, Republicans litigated to redraw more fair and balanced congressional districts which continued through 2010. North Carolina produced dozens of new congressional maps during that time.
Since 2011, Democrats have run to the courts to demand multiple congressional map redrawings. If the NCGA does not produce a new map that the three Superior Court judges on the special panel approve by Dec. 15, then there is the possibility that the courts will appoint a “special master” to draw the districts.
Superior Court judges are not elected statewide. Most need less than 50,000 votes, or about 0.5% of the state’s population, to get elected. Many are appointed to fill an open seat by the governor. Three people in the state might get to choose what is “right” and “fair” in redistricting rather than the legislative body that was elected by the entire state. Appointing a special master reduces the massive responsibility of redistricting into the hands of just one person, not the 170 elected representatives and senators in the NCGA.
Voters need time to get to know their elected representatives. They might need help on passports and visas or getting their Social Security checks straightened out. They need to see the voting history of their representative over time. They might even get to shake his or her hand along the way.
Repeated legislative redistricting and map reconfigurations leads to voter disengagement and disenfranchisement from their elected representatives. Many people have no idea who their elected representatives are anyway; repeated redrawing of districts confuses them even further.
No wonder so many people are disenchanted with politics. Many stay at home as a result and don’t vote anymore.
Court-mandated redistricting in 2019 based on 2010 census data is a peak of absurdity. Do it in 2021 based on 2020 census data.
It is time for both sides to stop the weaponization in the courts over our political redistricting process. Go back to the days of constitutional integrity: take a decennial census, redraw the lines and be done with it until the next census is taken.
Our democratic republic, and Ben Franklin, will thank us for it.