In the event federal judges throw out the latest North Carolina congressional district maps, a group of Republicans in the General Assembly has devised a plan that allows voters to cast their ballot for any state congressional candidate, even if the voter lives in another congressional district, according to sources.
No member wanted to be interviewed for this story, but one staffer told Carolina Journal that legislators are fed up with court interference and constant second-guessing by interest and advocacy groups whenever redistricting time rolls around.
Under the proposed plan, called U-Choice (short for ultimate choice), each voter would continue to get just one vote. But the ballot for Congress would list every candidate from every party in all 13 districts. And just as North Carolina’s congressional representatives are not required to live in the district they seek to represent, U-Choice would give voters freedom to choose a representative from outside their home district.
He said one legislator told him, “We don’t know if the federal court will overturn our current plan, but we want to be prepared. And if the court throws out our latest plan, and we don’t have time for a primary, we will then use U-Choice, with all 77 candidates on the ballot.”
The districts drawn during a February special session of the General Assembly are before a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court. It’s unclear when the court will rule on the map, but the primary is set for June 7.
Following every 10-year U.S. census, state lawmakers redraw legislative and congressional districts. By law, each district must contain a similar number of residents, but the political party with the legislative majority usually attempts to maximize its victories by studying voting results from previous elections. The resulting districts often have unusual shapes and odd boundaries under a process called gerrymandering.
In recent decades, advocacy groups and the minority party have taken the state to court to seek different district lines. Those court battles can last several years and require new maps to be drawn.
The most recent census was in 2010, with districts redrawn in 2011. Advocacy groups filed suit claiming the Republicans packed African-Americans in a few districts, allegedly reducing their influence.
The legislative staffer called U-Choice a “game-changer,” said the plan would render gerrymandering complaints irrelevant. He added that the districts would maintain equal population numbers, even though some representatives may receive many more votes than the number of people living in their districts. The “maximizes voter preferences,” which everyone seems to agree is a worthwhile goal. “Freedom and choice are powerful forces, and we need more of that in our election process,” he said.
One Chapel Hill resident, a Republican, told CJ he has been disenfranchised for 30 years.
“Since 1986 I have been stuck in a district that favors David Price [an Orange County Democrat]. He lost one time in a fluke election in 1994 but got back in the next time. If we get U-Choice, my vote will now mean more. I can vote in a district for someone that has a chance of winning.”
The N.C. NAACP and other frequent critics of earlier GOP redistricting proposals quick cried foul. “We will challenge U-Choice. We really haven’t figured out what is wrong with it yet, but if it’s a Republican idea it’s got to be sneaky, wrong, and unconstitutional,” the organization said in a news release.
Parting Shot is a parody loosely based on events in the news. This parody appeared in the April 2016 print edition of Carolina Journal.