Column: Let’s not abandon basic fairness in our state elections | Opinion

Reproduced with permission from The News & Observer of Raleigh.

Can an election be “free” but not “fair”? That may be true, according to North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby.

In the recent gerrymandered districts lawsuit, plaintiffs’ attorneys were discussing the language of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which guarantees “free and equal” elections. Newby observed that the language of the NC Constitution was different: “We have ‘free’. We have no “justice”. The implication, it seems, is that the NC Constitution does not necessarily guarantee the “fairness” of elections.

Even if we accept that exchanges in courtrooms are free and experimental, “fairness” seems to be a value that we can all take for granted as a good thing. This month, Newby honored court reporters with these words: “Our court reporters are essential to keeping our courts open and delivering fair and impartial justice for all.

A quick internet search of “Paul Newby fair” yields a remarkable Newby campaign video that is amply rewarding for the 30 seconds it takes to watch it, both for its musical content and its message: “Paul Newby: Justice hard but fair”. Here, “fairness” is a basic virtue with universal appeal.

What would a ‘free but not fair’ election look like? In fact, it would look like the election the Republican-led General Assembly had planned for 2022 — an election where the cards predicted that at least 10, possibly 11, of North Carolina’s representatives in Congress would have been Republicans. .

This has been the case for most of the last decade. In 2012, for example, the Democrats won 47% of the vote, but ended up with only 23% of the representation (3 out of 13 representatives). Republicans won 77% representation for only 53% of the vote.

Imagine this as a commercial interaction, in what could be called “The Republican Country Store”. In this store, a Democrat would have to pay $2.05 to buy a representation worth $1. Republicans could get that same representation for 68 cents. A Republican spending that same $2.05 would get $3 worth of representation.

While waiting for the cards to be redrawn, this is the “store” that will be open in the fall of 2022.

You could say that everyone is completely “free” to spend their money in this store. But Democrats would rightly argue that this is massively unfair. And this is where the “store” metaphor breaks down. When it comes to elections, you can’t take your business elsewhere; there is only one store.

Republicans usually say that Democrats were gerrymandering long before Republicans. It is true that the Democrats gerrymander when they could, but far from the current level practiced by the Republican legislature. Maps drawn by Democrats in the 1990s eventually produced Republican majorities. Democrats may have had their thumbs on the scales when drawing districts, but Republicans have a fist on the scales. This significant difference cannot be erased by saying that the Democrats did too. The fist is worse than the thumb.

But both thumbs and fists are insults to the principle of fairness in elections, and NC citizens would be better off if all appendages were removed from the scales when drawing the cards.

The phrase “level playing field” reflects the general sense of fairness that Americans desire in competitive sports and in competitive environments generally. The competition can be tough, but the rules of the game must remain level playing field in the spirit of fairness. Let us not give up fundamental fairness in justice or in our common political life.

Snyder is a professor of religious studies at Davidson College.

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