NC lawmakers OK redistricting patch-up
Posted November 7, 2011
RALEIGH, N.C. — The General Assembly returned to work Monday to restore omissions to North Carolina's new redistricting laws that lawmakers say were caused by a computer code error as legislative staff translated computer-generated maps and population data to text.
Republican lawmakers took advantage of a previously scheduled work session to vote to add census block data that got left out of the laws when they were approved in July largely on party lines.
The mostly partisan votes remained Monday as the repaired text for boundaries for the state House and Senate and North Carolina's congressional seats passed at least one chamber of the Legislature by late Monday afternoon. Republican leaders at say they'll complete their work by the evening and adjourn.
They spent the day downplaying the problem that failed to identify more than 200 sections of the state across three maps. They said the omissions were technical in nature and didn't change the visual maps upon which legislators voted in the summer and were given to the Department of Justice to get reviewed in light of portions of the Voting Rights Act.
"The staff calls it a curative solution," said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee. "I call it a computer glitch."
Democrats who opposed the redrawn district in July – and now support lawsuits challenging the maps – used Monday's debate to criticize Republicans. They said the changes were anything but "curative" – an adjective used in each bill attempting to make the fix.
Democrats said the omissions covered areas where close to 500,000 voters live within the three maps – some individual voters may be counted multiple times – and were augmented because GOP leaders split hundreds of voting precincts to maximize political gain in the once-a-decade remapping. A memo from legislative staff to redistricting leaders acknowledged the problems occurred largely with blocks of 2010 census data that got placed in voting units split between two or more districts.
In addition, said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, the state constitution doesn't allow the General Assembly to change maps once they're finalized unless a court determines they're unconstitutional. The state constitution says House and Senate districts, "when established, shall remain unaltered" until after the next census.
"That is an unconstitutional series of errors," Glazier said.
Republicans disagreed because the maps haven't been used yet and are still being challenged in court. The code mistake doesn't negate the legislative intent, said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, the Senate Redistricting Committee chairman.
"There's nothing wrong with the maps," he said.
Glazier maintains that the state would have to go to court and get a judge to toss the maps out before changes could be made.
"You can't sort of fix one constitutional problem by creating a second one," he said. "We are all stuck with the mess that they have created."
The debate came as at least 20 of the legislature's 170 members were absent or didn't vote. About two weeks ago, Republican leaders said they expected the legislature would reconvene Monday briefly just to vote to go home again until after Thanksgiving. That was before the error was identified in a local redistricting measure and later determined to affect the congressional and legislative boundaries.
Republican leaders appeared ready to leave late Monday without taking up other substantive legislation. A minor change to state alcoholic beverage control laws and a fix to teacher pay rules were among those discussed but ultimately will be shelved until later this month at the earliest. Democrats also were worried that House Republicans would attempt to override vetoes by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue earlier this year.