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Once a decade scramble for true political power underway
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Once a decade scramble for true political power underway

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James Douglas, whether he realizes it or not, is a bit of an anomaly.

Why, perchance, might that be?

Because he’s a young man, fully informed and engaged in civic life, good governance and participatory democracy.

Turnout in presidential election years typically runs around 60 percent (40 percent in off-years); the under 40 voters tend to run 10-15 points lower.

So to see Douglas seated in a crowd of more than 125 mostly older folks at the Strickland Auditorium at Forsyth Tech to participate in a public forum on redistricting for legislative and congressional maps was like seeing a real-life unicorn.

Redistricting and gerrymandering are topics usually taken up by academics, wonks and the League of Women Voters.

And yet there sat Douglas, wearing a Wu-Tang Clan face mask, ready to take his turn urging state lawmakers to be high-minded and open to the needs of all citizens, not just their own political parties.

Laughable and the longest of long shots because we’re talking about politicians, but it’s worth a try.

“I just want it to be fair,” Douglas said. “For all sides. Everyone.”

‘Expensive pastime’

Redistricting, for those of you in the back, comes along every 10 years following the release of Census data.

The idea is to track the population and then assign representation on the state and federal level accordingly.

Simple, right? Not quite.

As one speaker said Tuesday — pretty sure it was tongue in cheek because the fellow was smart enough to know the full story — gerrymandering for political gain is literally as old as the Republic.

“Some guy named Gerry rigged the maps in his favor,” the man said, referring to Gov. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts who in the early 19th Century drew a district said to resemble a salamander.

Gerry-mander. Get it?

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Ever since, aided by technological advances in computerized mapmaking, the political party holding power has gleefully put a thumb on the scale to try and keep the advantage tilted to the left or the right.

Inevitably, the aggrieved party — in North Carolina since 2010 that’s been the Democrats — attacks in the courts through lawsuits challenging new maps on, among other factors, racial grounds, saying — correctly as judicial panels have ruled — that the GOP controlled Legislature unfairly packed districts to dilute minority voting power.

“It’s an expensive and disruptive pastime fueled by lawsuits,” said speaker Kevin Spach. “And completely unnecessary.”

As each speaker made her (or his) way to a podium to chip in their two cents, a panel of state representatives and senators, R’s and D’s, nodded along, making a great show of listening intently.

“We’re here to hear from each one of you,” said state Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth and Davie, the chair and ostensible host of the meeting.

Mmm-hmm.

Every vote counts

The trouble here is that, once again, the process will be rushed and much of it conducted behind closed doors as the honorables in the GOP-controlled Legislature target with surgical precision ways to preserve electoral advantage.

As then-Rep. David Lewis famously said after Republicans crafted in 2016 (in response to a judicial order) a congressional map which made it a virtual lock that the GOP would control 10 of the state’s 13 districts: “I propose we draw the maps to give partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

(Lewis resigned in 2020 after pleading guilty to a felony related to playing games with campaign money. Karma wins.)

The 2022 midterm elections are just around the corner; it’s no coincidence that Rep. Ted Budd is already out on TV showing Republican voters his devotion to former President Trump.

And since the Census didn’t release its data until August, the time crunch is real. And North Carolina, thanks to population gains, adds a 14th congressional seat next year.

Legislators have pledged not to use race or be overly partisan in the remapping, mostly to comply with past court orders. But we’ve seen (and heard) that one before.

All of which makes it (somewhat) heartening that more than 120 people, including a handful of unicorns like James Douglas, urge restraint, fairness and consideration for keeping established communities together in the same districts.

Drawing competitive districts in which Democrats and Republicans each have a shot at winning would have the beneficial side effect of eliminating loathsome extremists who tend to dominate primary elections and cruise to November wins.

We’re looking at you, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-Asheville.

“I urge you to redistrict fairly so that every vote counts,” said speaker Saundra Robinson.

The honorables smiled and nodded along. It may well be that Robinson (and others like her) are spitting in the wind. But at least they’re trying.

336-727-7481

@scottsextonwsj

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