North Carolina's 12th District: UnAmerican Beauty

By Fred McBride
Perhaps if we give a map of North Carolina, some pencils, and a box of crayons to a 1st grade classroom maybe they can successfully redraw Representative Mel Watt's 12th District and this soon to be 10 year mess will then be over. After all, first-graders won't consider factors like race, partisanship, and they are probably not that good with percentages yet.

So, given that a first-grader has little knowledge of racial history in America, probably cannot spell the word "gerrymander," has no concept of what it means to be among the first African American congressional representatives from North Carolina in nearly 100 years, and could probably care less about how frustrating this is for Representative Watt, the North Carolina General Assembly, and those who reside in the 12th and surrounding districts they are seemingly the logical alternatives to submit something that perhaps no one will have a problem accepting.

First-graders are probably color-blind too. They possibility can't tell you the race of their teacher, the skin color of most of their friends, or even that their crayola box has sixty-four different colors. But, I'll bet they do know colors and they can determine race and ethnicity. Maybe color is not a predominate factor in their lives right now, but nonetheless it is still a factor!

What will it take to please those who have a problem with districts that elect racial minority candidates to office? The 12th District has been changed several times and the strength of minorities within the district is less than the 1992 statistic. It appears that as long as Mel Watt keeps winning, the longer this litigation will last. If race played too great a factor in the last drawing, what minority percentage within the district will it take to end this ridiculous battle 10, 15, 20 percent? When racial minorities within District 12 are successfully locked out from electing a candidate of choice and are too small of a percentage to be influential, then will the litigation end? No, then minorities within the district could likely file voting rights lawsuits challenging the new district. Racial minorities can then become plaintiffs and all parties can take turns [just like tennis] at the voters' expense. Is there no end?

There is an answer alternative election systems. Different means of electing representatives can eliminate many of the problems associated with districting. Election systems like cumulative voting, limited voting, and choice voting are used for local elections in many areas in the United States {see Superdistricts}. Limited voting is used in several areas in North Carolina and overall these systems have been successful in electing African Americans and Hispanic Americans to office. In 1999 Congressman Watt introduced a bill [H.R. 1173] which would allow states the option of adopting other alternatives. One alternative could divide North Carolina into four districts each electing three representatives. Using one of the alternative systems could allow minority voters to elect candidates of choice in several districts.

Given the attacks on districts that elect racial minorities to office, other alternatives must be explored if minority representation is to remain realistic. City councils, county commissions, and school boards can also benefit under an alternative system. If North Carolina has to endure another decade of challenges to the 12th District, giving this to a group of first-graders may then actually sound rational.

Fred McBride