Surprise! Map litigation! A people’s ballot initiative? And, anti-democracy voices

As the new year marches in, democracy in our once proud state of North Carolina is on life support. Yes, some of us are still able to cast ballots, but elections for our 14 seats in the U.S. House and 170 seats in our General Assembly were rigged—again—complements of extreme gerrymanders and partisan decisions by our new state Supreme Court. As well, the legislature continues to gut the governor’s responsibilities. Democracy works when power is balanced and shared among the three governmental branches. Today, it all rests in the hands of the two majority leaders in the state House and Senate where they make all decisions for 10.3 million people. Not exactly the democracy I was introduced to in seventh grade.


Here’s what happens when elections are gerrymandered. In 2024, two of our fourteen congressional districts have no candidate representing our second major political party. Why bother? The results are already fixed! When votes are tallied after the March 5 primary election, the primary winners will go to Washington. Yes, you’ll see their names on the fall ballot, but they’ve no need to campaign or ask for voter support, and—once sworn in—no need to practice accountability to their constituents. As long as our state is locked into one-party rule—and gerrymandered maps stand—they cannot be voted from office. There’s that pesky democracy thing again!

Meanwhile, it’s business-as-usual on the legal front. Three lawsuits[1] have been filed against the voting maps that brought us to this sad place. All three make claims of racial bias and ask new maps to be drawn. And a new case popped up in the past ten days. Maybe a positive result down the road.


What can we citizens do? How can we get rid of that cursed lowlife, Gerry Mander, forever?

Michigan did just that in 2018 when 28-year-old Katie Fahey tackled a colossal petition process that forced the state legislature to put a constitutional amendment vote on their ballot. It asked the voters to decide if they wished to replace political party gerrymandering with a citizen’s redistricting process. The people won! Gerry Mander lost, and was flushed into Lake Michigan and out of existence! Good riddance!


Way cool! “Let’s do that here at home” you say.


Alas, Michigan is different. They are among 26 states with a constitution that includes a Citizens Initiative process. That was Katie Fahey’s magic power. Our North Carolina constitution gives us no such right. We can petition our legislature for an “ask-the-voters” ballot question till the cows come home, but they don’t have to comply. In short, we have no way to demand a vote for laws We the People want. It’s a post-Civil War reconstruction vestige akin to that of most southern states. Only the legislature can amend the state constitution, which, in truth, means the political party that controls the legislature.


I’ve recently joined a state League of Women Voters working group, formed to study the citizen initiative process for the time when North Carolina again has a democracy-friendly legislature in place.


For now, we’d be wise to pay attention to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum: “Thank goodness that most of the states in this country don’t allow you to put everything on the ballot, because pure democracies are not the way to run a country.” Now there’s a guy who believes in The People’s democracy!


Lastly, if you’re not yet aware, take a moment to check out Project 25. Be forewarned. It’s a truly terrifying look at what’s in store for the United States this fall—if the party running on revenge and authoritarianism defeats the party of democracy.

[1] [NC judge block GOP-Backed elections law ahead of 2024. 1. NAACP/CC filed 12/19, Observer 12/20/23]. 2. Black/Latino voters in Congressional districts 1, 6, 12, and 14. 3. Two Black voters, Observer 12/6/23.