Premier partisan gerrymandering fight settled on a middle ground
The nation's most prominent partisan gerrymandering fight is over. A newly drawn congressional district map for North Carolina will be used in the next election, a panel of three state judges has ruled.
The decision, announced late Monday, brings closure to the most pressing dispute in the country over the limits that politicians may go to in order to pick their own voters, rather than the other way around.
The end result is North Carolina is highly likely to elect five Democrats to Congress in 2020, two more than in most of this decade. Aggressive mapmaking by the Republicans who dominate the General Assembly had resulted in just three of 13 House seats going to Democrats even though their slate of candidates was securing about half the statewide congressional vote — and a slim but clear majority last year.
The three judges in Charlotte who ruled Monday had signaled they were ready to strike down that map as unconstitutional under the fair elections clause of the state Constitution. It was in response that GOP legislators drew new lines designed to shift the balance of power in the delegation from 10-3 to 8-5. Democrats said that still was not fair to them and that the legislators should be ordered back to the drawing board. The judges unanimously disagreed.
"The net result is the grievous and flawed 2016 map has been replaced," Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway said in their opinion.
The judges said that while questions remain about the adequacy of the new map to combat partisan gerrymandering, the political calendar does not allow time for them to be resolved before the congressional primaries March 3. The court had initially halted candidate filing for House seats pending arguments in the case Monday, but allowed the three-week period to go forward along with the ruling upholding the new map.
The Democrats said they will not appeal, citing the timeline for candidate filing and "the nature of today's ruling."
The new lines put incumbent House Republicans Mark Walker and George Holding in the most electoral danger, because they live in what are now solidly Democratic districts. The Democrats initially best positioned for coming to Congress instead are community activist Kathy Manning, who narrowly lost a House bid last year, and 2016 Senate nominee Deborah Ross.
A separate lawsuit, challenging the way the GOP drew the boundaries of the 120 state House and 50 state Senate districts, ended this fall similarly to the congressional suit. The three judges said the old lines went too far to entrench the party in power, the GOP replied with a somewhat modified map, the Democrats said the modifications weren't enough but the court said the redo could stand.
Still, the North Carolina court's actions were a welcome breakthrough for critics of partisan gerrymandering who felt at a big loss after the Supreme Court ruled this summer that federal judges may not get involved in such cases.
"After nearly a decade of voting in some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country, courts have put new maps in place that are an improvement over the status quo, but the people still deserve better," said former Attorney General Eric Holder, who now runs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which helped to finance the North Carolina litigation and similar efforts in some other states
In North Carolina, the next opportunity for that will be in 2021, after another election for the General Assembly and a reapportionment of House seats nationwide follows the census, which is likely to bring a 14th seat to the state.
- Gerrymandered congressional map causes filing delay in N.C. - The ... ›
- Experts identify the worst examples of gerrymandering - The Fulcrum ›
- Must read: The man behind North Carolina gerrymandering - The ... ›
In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.