Democratic Congressman Proposes Federal Law on Redistricting


(Alan Wooten, The Center Square) Less than a week after his party was court-ordered to pay legal fees for “frivolous” and “unreasonable” intervention in a third party’s try for ballot access, North Carolina Congressman Wiley Nickel was at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday introducing legislation for fair maps.

The Fair and Impartial Redistricting for Meaningful and Accountable Political Systems Act would establish independent nonpartisan redistricting commissions in every state. The FAIR MAPS Act, as known by acronym, would have impact on the 15th Amendment to the Constitution and have a 15-member commission chosen by a “nonpartisan agency established or designated by a state” that follows the bill’s rigid selection process.

With him for the occasion were Virginia Kase Solomón, president and CEO of Common Cause; Rushad Thomas, director of Legislative Affairs for End Citizens United; Mark Gaber, senior director of redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center; and La’Meshia Whittington, president of Democracy Green.

Nickel, a Democrat from Cary, continued his push for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, Freedom to Vote Act, and the Redistricting Transparency and Accountability Act.

At the House Triangle on Capitol Hill, Nickel told a small assemblage, “This story isn’t unique to North Carolina, and the problem isn’t just with the current state Legislature. History has made one thing clear: Politicians can’t be trusted to fairly draw electoral maps.”

U.S. Rep Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., is cosponsor of the legislation.

Timing for Nickel’s pitch coincides with multiple lawsuits regarding North Carolina voting laws, and the legislation introduced Tuesday doesn’t necessarily target each. The U.S. Constitution’s Article 1 and amendments 15, 19, 24 and 26 are only the tip of the iceberg on how Americans vote and politicians of today – particularly in Nickel’s home state – have found lawyers aplenty still ready to make bank in the details.

Nickel, a California native with ties to Chicago before choosing to raise a family in North Carolina, left the state Senate for the Beltway and during his first term representing the 13th Congressional District lashed out at state Republicans for how redistricting maps were drawn. He’s one of three Democrats – Reps. Jeff Jackson in the 14th and Kathy Manning in the 6th – who said that was the reason for not seeking reelection.

Jackson chose to run for state attorney general against U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, the Republican leaving the 8th.

In making his choice in December, Nickel said of Republicans, “They are going to get 71% to 79% of the seats in Congress, despite North Carolina being a purple state, a 50-50 state right down the middle.”

According to the Board of Elections website at the time, the state’s more than 7.3 million voters were 36% unaffiliated, 32.7% Democrats and 30% Republicans. Four months later, there’s 7.45 million voters, with percentages hardly changed – 36.8% unaffiliated, 32.3% Democrats, 30% Republicans.

For context, the state is known as a split-ticket pattern in more than half a century for presidents and governors. Republican presidential candidates starting with Richard Nixon in 1968 have won the state’s last 14 cycles with just two exceptions (Jimmy Carter in 1976, Barack Obama in 2008) and neither of those repeated in reelection bids.

In the last decade or so, more statewide races have favored Republicans than Democrats; those unaffiliated tilt the tide. Even still, since Daniel Lindsay Russell was governor from 1897-1901, North Carolinians – who couldn’t reelect governors at all until 1977’s constitutional amendment – have elected 23 Democrats. GOP Govs. James Holshouser (1973-77), Jim Martin (1985-93), and Pat McCrory (2013-17) are the only exceptions to the trend.

Last week, the North Carolina Green Party was recipient of a favorable ruling from U.S. District Chief Judge James Dever. The North Carolina Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was ordered to pay $6,525 for legal fees of the Green Party in a lawsuit involving the state Board of Elections and 2022 Green Party U.S. Senate candidate Matthew Hoh.

Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., sought to have his name on the Super Tuesday primary ballot in North Carolina. The Democratic Party has responsibility to submit names and did not include him. Voters had a choice of President Joe Biden or “no preference,” the latter of which garnered nearly 89,000 votes (12.7%) from 698,580 cast.