State lawmakers have given final approval to a new set of voting maps for the 2012 elections. The three plans – House, Senate, and congressional – won final approval tonight. They are not subject to a veto by Gov. Bev Perdue.
It was the first time in over a century that Republicans controlled the process in North Carolina, and the new maps reflect the change in legislative control. Many districts in all three bodies have been crafted to be friendlier to GOP candidates than ever before. For example, the current congressional balance of seven Democrats and six Republicans could shift to three Democrats and ten Republicans in 2012.
That’s due in part to the state’s changing demographics and the accompanying shift in political control, illustrated last year when Republicans swept both legislative chambers. But it’s also due to more precise technology that allows lawmakers to choose the voters they want, right down to street level. Partisan gerrymandering, as it’s called, is not illegal.
The resulting lines divide hundreds of voting precincts across the state, running down sidestreets, across college campuses and through apartment complexes. Critics of the maps say the split districts will require local elections boards to print many more specialized ballots, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and a lot of headaches for voters and elections officials in 2012.
Republican mapmakers say the districts are “fair and legal,” a recurrent theme in the week’s floor debates in both chambers. They say the maps conform to all federal and state laws regulating how voting maps can be drawn. They’re confident their plans will withstand federal scrutiny and likely court challenges.
Democrats, however, say Republicans have “packed” African-American voters into a handful of districts, diluting their influence in surrounding areas. They also say the new maps fail to keep communities of interest together, which is a requirement for redistricting. Democratic leaders say they don’t expect the maps to gain the federal approval required for implementation in the May primaries.
In the House, only two Republicans voted against the House plan – Reps Glen Bradley, R-Franklin, and Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, both of whom are “double-bunked,” or placed into districts with other incumbents. One Republican, Rep. Larry Brown, R-Forsyth, voted against the Senate map. The House vote on the congressional plan was strictly along party lines, as were all the map votes in the Senate.
The next step for the new maps is pre-clearance, expected to get underway in about 30 days. The state Attorney General is in charge of presenting the maps to the US Department of Justice, but GOP leaders say they’ll also file suit in federal court in Washington, DC to make sure the process doesn’t get bogged down.