Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer held a press conference Thursday, May 11, to highlight House Bill 200, which seeks to end gerrymandering on a statewide level. Asheville residents affiliated with Common Cause NC, a nonprofit organization based out of Raleigh, also spoke against gerrymandering within congressional districts and the need to support the proposed legislation.
House Bill 200 was filed in February by 39 co-sponsors representing both parties in the N.C. House, including all members of the Buncombe County House delegation. Despite bipartisan support, the bill has not been able to get a hearing or a vote.
Asheville is also experiencing the effects of what some categorize as gerrymandering with a recent bill filed by Sen. Chuck Edwards of Hendersonville to create districts for city council seats.
“Asheville really is ground zero for gerrymandering in a lot of ways,” said Brent Laurenz, the director of Common Cause. “Between the congressional district being split in two last go-round and the efforts to redraw the City Council from Raleigh, there’s a lot of hyperlocal attention around the issue here.”
In her comments, Manheimer advocated for an end to gerrymandering, calling it a “short-sighted, short-term gain.”
“Gerrymandering of local, federal and state offices by the state legislature has all been for one blatant political goal: to diminish the voice of the people,” Manheimer said. “By splitting Asheville into two ruby-red congressional districts, the city’s electorate has been neutralized.”
A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling showed that 80 percent of citizens — Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated alike — did not think it was fair for politicians to be drawing their own district lines, Laurenz said. With this level of bipartisan support, Common Cause NC is calling for a fair hearing in the Legislature and a fair vote.
“It basically takes the power of the vote away from citizens,” said Jim Millikan, a Candler resident who spoke out against gerrymandering and in favor of House Bill 200. “Gerrymandering ensures that there are guaranteed winners and guaranteed losers. I hope the Legislature realizes the bipartisan benefit of switching the system to a more neutral system so that voter participation matters.”
Manheimer’s comments made a similar appeal.
“The biggest harm in gerrymandering political representation, where election outcomes are artificially manufactured, is the apathy generated among the people,” Manheimer said. “Why should you vote? Why should you the voter care about political representation when your vote is being manipulated to affect a disproportionate amount of people? This resulting apathy shall be the demise of democracy, and I argue that this result, in the end serves no party.”