The unusual term “gerrymander” originated early in the 19th century, based on the name of Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry from the supposed similarity between a salamander and the shape of a new voting district on a map drawn when he was in office. Creation of the odd-shaped district favored his party.
In North Carolina, our Republican legislators gerrymandered 28 state Senate and House districts with surgical precision in an effort to make it difficult for African Americans and Latinos to vote. Our elected represenatives also reduced the early-voting period for elections by seven days, ended same-day voter registration and established strict voter ID requirements. These provisions — which affect minority communities most — were struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals this past summer for their obvious discrimination. Our Republican legislators immediately asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that decision. Got to suppress those votes. These people tend to vote for Democrats, and we can’t have that. As I write this, the Supreme Court hasn’t decided whether to take this case on.
What do you consider the gravest sin being committed by those now holding political power? There are so many; where does one begin?
I choose vote suppression. Goodness knows, this is not the only moral failure of those in positions of power, not by any stretch, but it’s the most deplorable, in my view. Choose your sin: Manipulating tax codes to favor the wealthy; dismantling protections of food quality, water and air pollution; enacting laws to weaken public education and requiring taxpayers to pay for religious education; refusing to raise wages; deporting immigrants hungry for a better life; interfering in the most personal of decisions about one’s body, love life and marriage, throwing obstacles in the paths of selected people to keep them from exercising their right to vote. There is no justification for any of this, but for me, vote suppression is the worst.
In its ruling, the appeals court agreed that all of the illegal districts had high concentrations of African American and Latino voters. The judges noted that North Carolina’s current legislature chose not to follow an August 2016 ruling that found the gerrymandered districts and their elections unconstitutional and instead let them remain in an “unconstitutional racial gerrymander.” The three-judge panel ordered a special legislative election in North Carolina in 2017 and called for the 28 districts to be redrawn by March 15. State lawmakers elected in November 2016 would face shortened terms. Under the judges’ order, new primary elections would be held in late August 2017 or early September, with a general election in November. Winners in those contests would take office in January 2018.
March 15 — the Ides of March — is coming up soon, just a few days after the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament ends. Basketball might not provide the only excitement for North Carolinians.