Mike Parker: Disenfranchisement will end soon in ENC
Just a few weeks ago, I came to a sad realization. Since the death of Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr., nearly one-fourth of North Carolina’s counties — and roughly 1.6 million citizens — have had no representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
When Rep. Jones passed away, the Third District lost its voice in Congress. After the courts tossed the results from the election results in the Ninth District, that district also lost representation. Right now, both seats stand vacant.
To make this point poignant, I want to list the counties with their populations that have been unrepresented in Congress. The Third District is comprised of the following counties: Onslow (180,000); Carteret (67,000); Chowan (15,000); Pasquotank (41,000); Pamlico (13,000); Currituck (24,000); Perquimans (13,000); Pitt (170,000); Lenoir (59,000); Craven (100,000); Martin (24,000); Dare (34,000); Beaufort (48,000); Jones (10,000); Camden (10,000); Greene (22,000); and Hyde (5,800).
These 17 counties of the Third District have a total population of 835,800.
The Ninth District has five whole counties: Anson (27,000); Richmond (47,000); Robeson (140,000); Scotland (36,000); and Union (210,000). In addition, the Ninth District has parts of three other counties: Bladen (35,000); Cumberland (320,000); and Mecklenburg (940,000).
The total population of the Ninth Congressional District is 788,020. Taken together, more than 1.6 million citizens have had no representation in the U.S. House for more than eight months. The total counties affected equals 25 — one-fourth of all the counties in this state.
When I first began investigating this issue, I thought Gov. Roy Cooper was at fault and was placing partisan politics above the overall good of the people of the Third and Ninth districts. I believed Gov. Cooper could have appointed successors to serve the remaining terms, but he did not want to appoint Republicans to fill these seats since Republicans had last held them. As a result, I thought he just left these Congressional seats open.
However, when I investigated the federal laws governing filling vacancies in the U.S. House, I discovered Gov. Cooper had no real choice in the matter. Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution deals with the U.S. House of Representatives. Paragraph 4 of that section provides: “4: When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.”
The “Executive Authority thereof” means the governor. The governor is charged with providing for elections to fill the vacant seats. Gov. Cooper did provide for elections.
One of the reasons this provision is so important is because members of the U.S. House answer directly to the people they serve every two years. The purpose of House members facing such frequent elections is to make them particularly attuned to the will of the people.
The U.S. Senate was purposefully designed to represent the will of the states. For that reason, senators serve six-year terms and, until ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, each state determined how to choose its senators. The 17th Amendment provides for the direct election of senators.
Sadly, the net result of the cumbersome and time-consuming method of filling vacancies in the U.S. House for the Third and Ninth Districts has been the denial of representation and advocacy in the U.S. House.
Perhaps the legislature and the governor need to work together to streamline the process of filling Congressional vacancies. At minimum, the time-table needs to be shortened so that vacancies do not drag on for better than half a year.
On Tuesday, Sept. 10, both districts will hold general elections to remedy their lack of representation. In fact, early voting is open until Sept. 6.
Please do your civic duty.
Mike Parker is a columnist for Neuse News. You can reach him at email@example.com .