Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is governor of North Carolina. Larry Hogan, a Republican, is governor of Maryland.
The Supreme Court will soon hear arguments over whether politicians can be trusted to draw up their own districts.
Take it from us: They can’t.
We are governors from different parties with different views on a number of issues. But on this we agree: Elections should be decided by the voters. Under the current system, politicians devise maps that make some votes count more than others. They rig the system with impunity.
Our states — Maryland and North Carolina — are among the most gerrymandered in the country. Take a look at our congressional district maps, and you will see some absurd-looking districts. This is no artistic statement; it is a scheme to concentrate one party’s voters — often using race as a proxy for party affiliation — in as few districts as possible, while spreading out another party’s voters into a larger number of districts that can still be comfortably won.
Both parties do it — and have for decades.
We have pushed to take the politics out of the process to make it fairer and more neutral. But it is clear to us that elected members of our legislatures will never give up this power without the courts — or the people — taking it from them.
On Tuesday the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two gerrymandering cases: Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek, the former from North Carolina and the latter from Maryland. We are asking the court to intervene because gerrymandering is an overt assault on our representative form of government, and free and fair elections are the foundation of American democracy.
Gerrymandering also has a toxic, polarizing effect on the conduct of elected officials. It makes them more beholden to the party leaders who draw the boundaries than to the voters who live within them. The fear of a primary challenger backed by their party leader forces them to fall into line and focus on the narrow interests of the party and its more stalwart voters. They become less responsive to the full spectrum of needs in their district, and common ground and the common good take a back seat to a safe seat. It is just wrong.
We have seen the results in our own states. In Maryland, Democrats contrived a congressional district map to distribute liberal voters from Baltimore and the Washington metro area far across the state. Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District is so convoluted that it looks like a broken-winged pterodactyl or blood spatter at a crime scene, depending on whom you ask.
In North Carolina, one Republican member of the North Carolina General Assembly actually told fellow legislators in 2016: “I propose that we draw the maps to give a 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.” Later that year, Republicans won those 10 seats — 77 percent of the congressional delegation — despite winning just 53 percent of the statewide vote. And in 2018, despite Democrats winning more votes statewide, Republicans maintained control of the state legislature.
As the court searches for a solution to end gerrymandering, voters all over the country are increasingly outraged by the practice, and they’re doing something about it. Just last year, voters in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and Utah passed grass-roots measures that will put their redistricting processes in the hands of nonpartisan commissions. California, the gold standard in statewide independent citizen redistricting, is considering a bill to require its large municipalities to use commissions. More states and cities will follow this example.
Leaders in both parties would be wise to listen to and work with the people they represent to strengthen our democracy. Both of us support reform efforts in our states that would take a nonpartisan approach to redistricting. Eventually, reform will come — and it must.
It may be sooner than we think if the Supreme Court takes this opportunity to unite the left and the right and end gerrymandering once and for all. Citizens should choose their elected officials, not the other way around.