The below comments were delivered by NCWU President and NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Executive Director Tara Romano at the March 01 Raleigh rally organized by Common Cause NC and Democracy NC. We’re proud to jong a broad coalition in supporting HB200, Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission, a bipartisan bill that aims to take politics out of redistricting.
Good afternoon. My name is Tara Romano, and I am the Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, as well as president of the coalition North Carolina Women United. Whether advocating for abortion rights; equitable access to contraception and prenatal care; affordable child care; paid family leave; or support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, we know that our right to equitably access the ballot box to choose our elected officials is a key component of citizen advocacy, no matter the issue. A robust government of the people that allows for the exchange of ideas and truly values the input of diverse voices will lead us to a more just, equitable and democratic society.
Unfortunately, partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts robs us of a government by the people; instead creating a government that is barely responsive to every day citizens as it positions itself to coast by indefinitely on safe districts and uncontested races. When over half of the candidates running in the General Assembly general election are running challenged; and lawmakers in “safe” districts believe they have some kind of mandate simply because they were drawn districts that cater to their ideology, we are left with a legislative body that feels compelled only to respond to other elected and government officials and special interests inside the building, while ignoring the voices of constituents like us outside of the building who rightly feel we have been left without any representation, and that the system has been rigged against us.
This frustrating situation has the effect of further depressing citizen engagement, with just around 2/3 of eligible North Carolina voters turning out on average during presidential elections. Some of that turnout rate has to do with voter suppression, and some of that also has to do with voters feeling like their vote makes no difference. And in heavily gerrymandered districts, they may be right. I ask you, is this what democracy looks like?
Despite the narrative of extreme polarization in our society, many North Carolinians share similar values. We believe in a living wage; the simple repeal of HB2; the expansion of health care access; the protection of reproductive rights; and free and fair elections, including independent redistricting. Rather than the opportunity for robust policy debate on issues, we are gerrymandering our way to a government by, of and for extremists. And this is not what democracy looks like.
I stand here today to call on the NC General Assembly to help us take our democracy back, and create a process for independent redistricting, so we again have elected officials who are chosen by voters; rather than elected officials who chose their voters. Thank you.