Raleigh, N.C. — Dozens of people braved snow, sleet and hazardous driving conditions Monday to speak out about a federal court order for North Carolina lawmakers to redraw congressional district maps by the end of this week.
The General Assembly is under a Friday deadline to reconfigure the maps after a three-judge panel ruled Feb. 5 that the 1st Congressional District and the 12th Congressional District are unconstitutional because the race of voters was the predominant factor in determining their boundaries.
Lawmakers still haven't rolled out any maps showing proposed replacements for the two invalidated districts – and the impacts changes would have on surrounding congressional districts – but they heard from more than 60 people in a five-hour hearing conducted simultaneously at six sites around the state.
Most agreed the prospect of changing the districts now, with the March 15 primary a month off and mail-in absentee voting already underway, would create chaos, but few offered constructive comments on how to fix the problem.
Most chose to point fingers. Some blamed those who filed the federal lawsuit challenging the districts.
"This is not your fault. This is the fault of the sore losers," said Jay DeLancy, director of the Voter Integrity Project. "The whole stink we're hearing today smells a lot like voter disenfranchisement."
"One has to wonder if this is all about changing all 13 districts, not just the 1st and the 12th," said Helen Pannullo, chairwoman of the 7th Congressional District Republican Party.
Others blamed the judges who made the ruling.
"They have changed the rules and the precedents after the game is done and the score has been submitted," said Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party.
But most leveled the blame at the lawmakers who drew the maps and urged them to fix the problem fairly.
"It's a mess. You made it. Clean it up," said Gary Grant, a Halifax County resident who lives in the 1st Congressional District.
"You need to comply with the decision and stop pretending that it doesn't exist," Thomas Keith Thompson said, noting that lawmakers continue to insist that the maps were properly drawn.
"For 25 years we've been fighting this problem," Onslow County resident Bob Williams said, noting the two districts have been misshapen since the 1990s. "Race shouldn't play a role in redrawing districts."
Leaving the race of voters out of the calculus used to draw districts was one of the few suggestions offered to lawmakers on how to redraw the maps.
"It is just time to get rid of all racial considerations. We should draw completely color-blind districts without any regard to race," Woodhouse said.
Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, said the reason race is addressed by federal law in North Carolina is because the state has a history of racial discrimination at the polls. He said Republican lawmakers took a tool intended to fix that problem and made it worse.
"They were just blinded to the fact that they could load all the minorities into these two districts and take them out of the surrounding districts," Blue said. "The result of that is racial discrimination. Our Constitution does not permit it."
Other people called for making districts as compact as possible, not splitting counties, especially rural ones, between districts and keeping precincts intact as much as possible.
"Maybe you should completely redraw the 4th District while you're at it to make it more competitive," Lee County resident Jim Womack said, noting that the district overwhelmingly favors Democratic candidates.
Senate and House lawmakers are scheduled to meet Tuesday morning to discuss the feedback. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court stays the judges' ruling, a special legislative session would be needed by the end of the week to approve the new maps.