Redistricting criteria call for partisan maps, no consideration of race

Posted August 10

— Map makers can use election data to achieve political goals as they redraw North Carolina's legislative districts, but they're forbidden from considering voters' race under criteria approved Thursday by the House and Senate committees overseeing the process.

These rules also say incumbents can be protected in the new maps, allowing map makers to make "reasonable efforts" to avoid drawing sitting legislators into the same district. The decision disappointed reformers who had hoped to see a less partisan process emerge as the General Assembly complies with a federal court order to replace unconstitutional maps.

"I think it's unfair that the majority obtained by unconstitutional districts is now going to be protected," House Minority Leader Darren Jackson said.

Democrats pushed back fruitlessly against the new criteria Thursday. In a process that lasted four-and-a-half hours, Republicans shot down the minority party's suggestions and passed their map-making rules on repeated votes that fell along, or very close to, party lines. A court reporter took it all down, including a question-and-answer session GOP leaders held with reporters after the meeting.

The three-judge panel that a year ago Friday found racial gerrymanders in 19 House and nine Senate districts will have to sign off on new maps before they take effect, relying in part on records created during this process. With criteria set, GOP leaders turn now to Tom Hofeller, a map-making expert who has taken up the Republican cause in states around the country.

In 2011, Hofeller drew the very maps he's now been hired to replace in North Carolina. Drafts should be ready for the public in about two weeks, Republican leaders said, ahead of a contemplated Aug. 24 vote to approve them on the floors of the House and the Senate.

Democrats and good-government groups complained Thursday that the criteria will allow Republicans to key in again on election data as they draw districts. Combined with modern computer software, this allows map makers to create districts they believe a Republican is sure to win and to bunch likely Democratic voters into fewer districts.

Republicans stopped short, though, of promising districts designed to re-enforce their veto-proof majorities in both chambers. State Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, asked House Rules Chairman David Lewis point blank: Is the goal to maintain that legislative lead?

"The leadership has no such goal," replied Lewis, R-Harnett.

Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, reminded lawmakers that a stream of speakers during a public hearing last week implored that partisan politics not be considered when drawing maps.

"What people were asking for was districts that represent the voters not districts that represent a political party," Van Duyn said.

The last time Republicans had to redraw districts – in 2016, when courts found North Carolina's congressional map unconstitutional – they included a required 10-3 Republican advantage in the map-making criteria. At the time, Lewis said he didn't think an 11-2 map was possible.

On Thursday, Lewis said he probably wouldn't say it that way if he could go back, but he was trying to show the courts that race wasn't the deciding factor in new maps – partisan politics was.

Political gerrymanders are legal, although a Wisconsin case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court could change that. What the courts have forbidden is an over-emphasis on race when it comes to drawing lines.

Some attention to race is typically required, though, because North Carolina must comply with parts of the federal Voting Rights Act, which is meant to protect minority voters' ability to elect candidates of their choice. It is unclear how new maps will satisfy this point. When asked, Republican leaders repeatedly quoted from a court opinion that not only declared race was the predominant factor in drawing the old maps, but said GOP legislators failed to produce evidence showing they needed to rely on racial data to satisfy VRA requirements.

"The only way to comply ... is not to consider race in that process," Lewis said.

Democrats, and particularly black Democrats, were incredulous.

"Do you understand that, by not using race, you're defeating your own purpose?" asked Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham. "The districts were declared unconstitutional because of race. If you don't use race to correct it, how are you going to show the court that they're not still unconstitutional?"

Lewis pointed again to the court's opinion. Smith-Ingram and others asked again: What metrics will show minority voters are treated fairly? Lewis asked to "refocus this conversation on the criteria."

"We live in the South," Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, said at one point. "When in the South has race not been a factor? Because what I'm hearing doesn't really add up."

Hofeller will be paid $50,000 for his work on the new maps, and the GOP majority has told Democrats they can also have $50,000 in taxpayer money to hire their own expert. Democrats will not have direct access to Hofeller or his work during the map-making process, but North Carolina law makes that sort of documentation public information after maps become law.

Democrats are expected to make some gains when the 2018 elections are held using the new maps, but how much the pendulum swings remains to be seen.

"The entire process of where lines are drawn – every result from where a line's drawn – will be an inherently political thing," Lewis said under questioning Thursday from Democrats. "I'm saying that redistricting itself is an inherently political process."

In addition to incumbency protection, the use of election data and the prohibition against using racial data, the House and Senate committees working on the new maps approved six other criteria Thursday:

  • Equal population: Each district must have roughly the same number of people in it, based on the 2010 census.
  • Contiguity: All parts of a district must be connected, but it's OK for districts to cross water.
  • County groupings: This criteria references various court cases that limit the number of times a district may cross county lines.
  • Compactness: Map makers "shall make reasonable efforts" to draw districts more compact than the current ones, as measured by a pair of compactness scoring methods.
  • Split precincts: Map makers must also "make reasonable efforts" to split fewer precincts in the maps than the current ones.
  • Municipal boundaries: City and town boundaries can be considered as the committee draws new districts.

The federal judges have set a Sept. 1 deadline to have the maps in place.


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  • Nicolle Leney Aug 11, 4:37 p.m.
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    As an unaffiliated voter who has voted BOTH parties, I don’t understand how ANYONE thinks districting should favor one party or the other, ever. Do you realize how this undermines the voting process when they draw the maps with the intention of pre-determining the results before the race even happens? It means our votes are worthless. They don’t matter. Representatives don’t need to worry about doing a good job to keep votes.

    Just to be clear, BOTH parties have been guilty of gerrymandering at various times. This “well the other party did it” is NO EXCUSE. If we continue to allow this, eventually that “other party” is going to do it again. We should not be allowing either political party to determine districts for a state. Of course they are going to give themselves an advantage! Districting should be NON-PARTISAN. Our votes are being diluted or just plain washed out. Non-partisan districts would mean our representatives have to work for our votes, like it SHOULD be.

  • Nicolle Leney Aug 11, 4:37 p.m.
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    The 2016 maps were designed to result in a 10/3 advantage for the Republicans. That is a known STATED fact. (2016 District Plan Drawing Criteria [PDF on the NC GA website]: "The partisan makeup of the congressional delegation under the enacted plan is 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats.”)
    By protected the incumbents, they are essentially aiming to maintain the advantage without outright stating that fact as they so stupidly did last time. The House representative in charge of redistricting this time is the same person that in 2016 said "I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats because I do not believe it's possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats." (exact quote from 2/16/2016 Joint Redistricting Committee meeting transcript)
    Same redistricting leaders, same mapmaker we’re paying, and same issues as last time is going to produce the same results as last time.

  • Teddy Fowler Aug 11, 11:11 a.m.
    user avatar

    Misleading title as they are currently required to take race into consideration...

  • Michael Bawden Aug 11, 8:21 a.m.
    user avatar

    I dont understand. That was the whole premise for district 12 gerrymandering in 1992. The SCOTUS said it was just fine. The ruling gave democrats the go ahead to gerrymander all districts in 1993. They took full advantage. It was fine for the liberal press back then. What changed? The judges and democrats look pretty silly arguing AGAINST the 1993 SCOTUS decision. OBAMACARE brought the Republicans to power. In a state that is 2-1 in democrat favor to Republicans. 500,000 votes. Cooper barely won. WRAL and the liberal NC press can only smear and bash Republicans. Whine and distort polls. Groupthink. The democrats sure are not winnig on ideas. If democrats cant figure out their gender identity, how can they figure out the issues.