Last week, a panel of federal court judges, in an unprecedented decision, announced that the North Carolina state legislature’s gerrymandered congressional districts were unconstitutionally partisan. The court ruling describes the state legislators responsible for drawing the districts as being “motivated by invidious partisan intent” and cites a violation of the 14th amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the law. Given that Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly were quite vocal about their partisan agenda, evidence for gerrymandering was apparent; Representative David Lewis—who drew the 2016 congressional districts—even stated that he believed “electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats.” Since the court ruling, the mainstream media has suddenly become abuzz with think-pieces and opinion articles on partisan gerrymandering and its implications for both parties.
In light of national conversations on partisan gerrymandering in our state, active participation in North Carolinian politics is essential. As we mentioned in yesterday’s editorial, the scandal-ridden sensationalized intrigue of national politics can detract from banal, but meaningful civic engagement. While many citizens avidly follow national politics, state legislatures—despite their importance in local politics—are often overlooked. The ramifications of this political disengagement from state politics can be devastating. Following the election of Democrat Roy Cooper in 2016, the state legislature of North Carolina organized a legislative coup to siphon power away from the Democrats. This instance is one among many that reminds us how much we as voting bloc stand to lose when we do not actively engage effectively within local and state politics.
Recognizing the role gerrymandering plays in our state politics is an important first step. Drawing districts is not a straightforward task. Small quantitative decisions can result in wildly different maps. As a result, academics from many different disciplines continue to research this topic to better understand its ramifications from varying quantitative, humanistic and social-science lenses. One such researcher is Duke mathematics professor Jonathan Mattingly, who—along with a team of Duke mathematicians—utilized mathematical modeling to study the extreme political subjectivity of North Carolina’s gerrymandered districts. Importantly, his research was instrumental within the recent federal court decision on North Carolina’s gerrymandered congressional districts.
This reminds us that there is no single avenue for political engagement. While civic duty and active participation in government are essential, political engagement is not limited to one specific field. Given the variety of majors and courses offered at this university, we should seek to apply our talents to our political engagement. It is far too easy to dismiss politics as an arena in which only public policy, political science or pre-law students contribute. With the rise of big data in politics, quantitative skills are inevitably becoming essential for policy makers. Health care policy has huge ramifications for the field of medicine. Research in virtually any subject is impacted by fluctuations in funding resulting from political decisions. Perhaps, this is why Aristotle described political science as “the most authoritative science.” He understood that we, as civic participants, have no excuse not to be involved.
Gerrymandering is undoubtedly contentious and rightfully so. However, an imbalanced political infrastructure does not deserve the entirety of the blame. Often, we disenfranchise ourselves because of our apathy. We choose to ignore politics with no intrigue or exciting drama to interest us. Failing to engage politically leads to a cycle of disillusionment by voters and abuses of power by politicians. Without collective actions from academics and voters, we may miss an opportunity to restore democratic values.
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