For years, state legislative and Congressional redistricting has been a topic of great political contention. This year in North Carolina, the conflict went local. The General Assembly introduced a series of bills to reconfigure local government bodies across the state. But they did so with little local input, and critics believe it is a thinly veiled attempt by Republicans to gerrymander districts in their favor.
Changing election districts and rules in cities, towns, and counties without input from the residents subverts democracy. Instead, we need leaders who will stand up for free and fair elections and create innovative policies to bring even more people into the democratic process.
In North Carolina, changing electoral rules for political advantage is nothing new. In fact, until 2013, when the Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, officials in 40 counties had to submit election law changes to the Department of Justice to ensure they weren't designed to suppress the minority vote.
In 2013, just weeks after the Supreme Court's ruling, legislators passed one of the most stringent voter suppression laws in the country. It eliminated early voting and same-day voter registration, and requires citizens to show a photo ID when they vote. Residents who had once fought Jim Crow laws to claim their right to vote once again fear the franchise will be taken away. In 2013 and 2014, Moral Monday protesters showed up to the statehouse every week to peacefully demand an end to these restrictive new laws. But the legislature continues to bypass the will of the people.
North Carolina has reached the next frontier of voter suppression with the bills introduced this session to change district and voting rules in local government bodies throughout the state. That the legislature can make these changes without consulting the people most directly impacted goes against the fundamental promise of democracy: people should have a say in decisions affecting their lives.
We need leaders who will stand up for democracy at all levels of government -- from Trinity to Wake County to Greensboro, from North Carolina to Ohio, from city councils to state legislatures. And, we need to commit to supporting young people who will run and serve in office at the local level now and for higher office in the future to protect democracy and the will of the people they are elected to serve.
LaunchProgress PAC, an organization that supports young progressive candidates running at the state and local level, is already working with candidates and young elected officials who support democratic values. State Representative Cecil Brockman, who received LaunchProgress PAC's endorsement, recently introduced a bill to make all General Assembly changes to local election districts subject to referendum, ensuring the people have a say in the setup of their local governments. We need more officials like Cecil Brockman. We need leaders in all elected bodies, and all levels of government, who are committed to protecting our voices and our vote.
To protect democracy, we have to bring more people into the process. There are other innovative ideas to expand the franchise and build greater inclusivity into the system, like Oregon's automatic voter registration law. Across the country, young progressives are working to expand democratic access for all Americans. Now it's time to get them into office, so they can turn their ideas into reality.
Arielle Swernoff is a member of LaunchProgress PAC.
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