Our neighbors in North Carolina have been getting swindled at the ballot box, and there’s a lesson in that for us.
A panel of three federal judges ruled earlier this month the state’s congressional districts are so unfairly gerrymandered for Republicans they had to be thrown out.
The Tar Heel State has 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and 10 of them — 77 percent — are held by the GOP.
Which seems odd given the governor and attorney general are Democrats and the last three presidential elections there have been decided by 3 points or less.
Those are pretty good indicators the state is almost evenly divided by party.
So where’s the disparity? Well, the North Carolina Legislature draws congressional districts — and those guys make South Carolina’s General Assembly look like a convention of choirboys.
As you may recall, the gang in Raleigh wrote the original bathroom bill, and when a Democrat won the governor’s office they tried to strip him of all power.
Yeah, they’re real princes.
This matters to us because North Carolina is a look into our future.
Although South Carolina is much more conservative than the Tar Heel State, our congressional districts are even more out of whack.
Which just screams voting-rights lawsuit.
Caution: Math ahead
In South Carolina, the last three presidential elections have shown a Republican advantage of 9-to-15 points; in governor races, it’s 4-to-15 points.
A conservative estimate based on those numbers is that Democrats make up at least 40 percent of voters in the Palmetto State. But six of our seven congressional seats are drawn for Republicans.
That’s almost 86 percent.
In most states, including South Carolina, legislatures draw congressional and legislative districts. And the party in power unsurprisingly tilts things in its favor. There’s always a danger when politicians are picking their own voters, instead of the other way around.
But it’s usually not that egregious.
- About 63 percent of New York voters register as Democrats, and the state’s congressional delegation is 67 percent Dem.
- Florida is evenly divided, but Republicans hold the Legislature and 59 percent of congressional districts.
- Even in Left Coast California only 73 percent of the congressional delegation is held by Democrats.
So North Carolina looks bad. Especially when you consider they’ve drawn a 35 to 15 Republican to Democrat seat advantage in their own state Senate and a 75 to 45 margin in their House.
South Carolina’s Legislature is not quite so gerrymandered. Republicans hold 64 percent of the Senate and 61 percent of the House. It certainly favors the GOP, but is probably not lawsuit-worthy.
The congressional districts are another story.
For years, Republicans have complained that U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s district, the 6th, is unfairly gerrymandered. And it is.
The 6th includes voters from the middle of the state, and majority-black precincts from Columbia to Charleston.
By most accounts, Democrats have a 19-point advantage in the 6th District.
But lawmakers didn't do that for Clyburn. They’re siphoning off more Democratic precincts than the district needs just so the other six seats remain safely in the hands of the GOP.
And there’s your lawsuit.
Out of the ditch
Voting rights groups and Democratic attorneys won in North Carolina, but the U.S. Supreme Court last week put the state’s redistricting on hold until it hears the case.
The Tar Heel feud is now in line behind similar cases from Wisconsin and Maryland. Can we be that far behind?
The problem in politics these days is that extremists from both sides are driving the train. They can do that because gerrymandering makes the outcome in November a foregone conclusion. It’s just math.
So most congressional seats are decided in primaries, where the most partisan voters steer candidates to the far right or far left. That results in a Congress that, although completely controlled by one party, can’t govern. Moderates are overwhelmed by hardliners.
But those folks are from the most-rigged districts, so the nuttier the better. In fact, it’s to their advantage.
Seems like it would be better for all states, including South Carolina, to let nonpartisan or bipartisan panels draw districts by geographical boundaries and let those elections be decided in November.
Republicans would still hold the advantage in South Carolina, but it might save us a lawsuit and make the GOP — and Democrats — more dependent on compromise and less beholden to the extremes.
It might even make politics, which by definition is supposed to be compromise, less crazy.
And right now, we could use a little less crazy.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.