Making a better future for the next generation in North Carolina.

Will the Next Generation Be Hopeful or Cynical About Democracy in 2040?

Mar 22, 2023 | Elections, Ethics, Government, North Carolina, Voters | 0 comments

I like living in a democracy where we voters have ultimate control of government through the ballot box. This is the only system I know of in which citizens can change an abusive, corrupt, or incompetent government without shedding blood. We settle our differences in the voting booth.

I hope our kids and grandkids will value and protect our democratic republic when they become adults in the 2040s. I hope they won’t lose their democracy through cynicism and apathy. There are always closet authoritarians waiting in the wings, ready to push for more power if they sense citizens don’t care.

How can we protect the next generation from the corrosive effects of cynicism and apathy? I think the best way is to show them that their voices matter, that their votes count, that citizens have the ultimate power in our system. That is hard to do if they feel the system is rigged and they are just pawns in corrupt games of political chess.

One of the best defenses against cynicism and apathy is the belief that success in elections leads to real change in government. If election losers stay in control, why bother to get involved?

When the losers won

Ten years ago, North Carolina had a cynicism-fueling rigged systems. In the 2012 elections for the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats won the major party popular vote* in North Carolina 51% to 49%. However, when the votes were divided up by districts, the Republican party sent 9 of its candidates to Congress compared to 4 Democrats.

How did North Carolina Republicans win 69% of the Congressional elections with only 49%? Those are 17% and 20% gaps between what the voters of the state wanted and what they got.

The secret sauce was that Republicans controlled the North Carolina legislature when new census figures came out in 2011. They drew the lines for new congressional districts that packed Democratic voters in just a few of them. This seems to happen no matter which party is in control — old timers of NC politics tell me the Democrats were just as bad when they controlled the legislature.

The impact of packing can be seen in the election results. Democrats won their four districts by landslides, racking up an average 133,093 votes over their Republican opponents. The nine Republicans won by an average margin of just 50,703. If the excess Democratic votes in their winning districts had been split between more districts, the results would have been more in line with the popular vote. Here are the figures:

In the last decade, things got better

In the 2022 election for the U.S. House of Representatives things got better in North Carolina. You might call 2022 the anti-cynicism election.

In North Carolina, Republicans won the major party popular vote for the U.S. House by 52.2% to 47.8%. With its fast-growing population, the census had increased North Carolina’s number of seats to 14. The election results were 7 seats for the Republicans and 7 for the Democrats — a 50/50 split. That is the closest possible result to the popular vote, only a 2.2% difference. If the Republican had won 8 seats and the Democrats 6, the difference with the popular vote would have been 4.9%.

The path to a fairer congressional map went through the state courts in North Carolina. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that a map proposed by the Republican majority in the General Assembly was unconstitutionally gerrymandered with extreme partisan bias. The map the court approved was drawn by three special masters appointed by the court, instead of by the legislature. Judging by how close the popular vote and the election results were in 2022, the special masters did a pretty good job.

Will North Carolina backtrack on fair election maps?

North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders were more than mildly upset about losing their right to draw districts. After Republicans took control of the NC Supreme Court in the 2022 election, legislative leaders asked the Court to rehear the gerrymandering case. The Court complied with their wishes, overturning the Court’s earlier ruling that was given when Democrats had the majority.

After winning back the right to draw the districts the way they choose, Republican are hard at work to draw more favorable maps for the 2024 election. Unless they decide to stick with congressional district maps — that have been proven to be fair — it will be impossible to tell our North Carolina kids that they live under the best and fairest system in the world. Will they still believe it is worth defending our democracy when cynicism walks in the door?

*The voting percentages I am quoting ignore the tiny percentage of votes for minor parties because they were not a factor in who won any of the elections.

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