Over the past few years, while we weren't paying attention, politicians at every level of government have been banishing voters with inconvenient attitudes from their districts. They got so good at creating their own personal designer districts that, these days, incumbents practically have to kill an intern to lose a re-election bid for political office.
That was no mistake. Last year, a political feeding frenzy surrounded the release of the 2000 census numbers, which trigger the redrawing of political districts across the country. In reordering their fiefdoms, politicians at every level of government may have dealt the final blow to the spirit, if not the mechanics, of the democratic system.
When our local politicians redrew their districts, they did such a masterful job, just under 40 percent of the registered voters in both city and county races will have no say in who represents them because they live in districts so slanted or gerrymandered toward one individual or party that they might as well not bother to show up to vote at all.
Some 132,312 voters out of 345,692 registered in the City of Charlotte -- 38 percent -- have been rendered virtually powerless to choose their elected officials due to the way city council redrew city districts. The county commission used an identical strategy and marginalized -- eerily enough -- exactly 38 percent of the voters as well. Ditto for the state legislature, and for US Congress.
How'd they do it?
Since the Democrats happened to be in charge when the districts were redrawn this time, they crammed a few districts to the gills with as many Republican voters as they could while spreading Democrat voters as far as they could. In the case of the county commission, more than a third of the county's voters, mostly Republicans, were stuffed into two of the county's six districts, which hold 80,000 and 89,000 voters apiece. Then they spread the Democrat voters as thin as they could across three other districts that contained about 65,000 voters each. The result is two districts so slanted they only elect Republicans, three so slanted they only elect Democrats, and one that could go either way (they're still bickering over that one.)
To pull this off, politicians had to be especially careful how they handled unaffiliated voters, who may vote for someone of either party. When they drew the districts, they scattered them so they make up no more 15 to 20 percent of the voters in each district. That way there wouldn't be enough of them to knock out a Democrat incumbent and replace them with a Republican or vice versa.
The result? There isn't a single competitive political district in this county -- 168,376 county voters and 132,312 city voters who are unaffiliated or members of the opposing party couldn't vote out an incumbent of the majority party if they wanted to. By the numbers, they are powerd together and voted for an independent or opposing candidate, he or she still couldn't win.
When this happens, the candidate who eventually wins is elected in the primary. Politicians understand that it's a lot easier to get elected in a primary, since hardly anyone shows up to vote. That's why they draw the districts that way. Last year, all the city council members from districts were elected in primary races where they either didn't have a challenger or they were elected in primaries where less than 4,500 votes were cast. Most of these folks actually had a challenger in the general election, but because of the way the districts were drawn, the incumbents clobbered their opponents with 60 to 90 percent of the vote without half trying.
Now do you understand why these folks can chuck their campaign promises about issues like the arena and massive tax hikes without fear of retribution from the voters?
It's just as bad, if not worse, at the state and national levels. In the state legislative redistricting last year, the Democrat-controlled state legislature carved up North Carolina in such a way that only 19 of 170 legislators would actually have to work to get re-elected, leaving the majority of the state's voters with little choice as to who represents them. The new district plan was so outrageous, in fact, that the nine Democrat and five Republican justices who sit on the North Carolina Supreme Court unanimously voted to halt the state's May 7 primaries after a judge ruled the districts unconstitutional.
According to a study by the Boston Globe, in 1992, the first federal election after congressional districts were last redrawn, there were about 100 House races that were truly competitive. A decade and another redrawing later, only 20 House seats and six Senate seats could be considered tossups. Because of the way they were drawn, the rest will easily fall back into the hands of an incumbent. If you live in one of those House districts, and everyone in Mecklenburg County does, there will be little point in going to the polls this fall. They've got us that good, the bastards.
U-haul, anyone? *