NC lawmakers, voting groups have one week to submit new election maps. Where things stand
North Carolina's ongoing redistricting fight continues to brew as Republicans and voting rights groups prepare to submit new election maps. Both sides are also making competing recommendations to a trial court that will soon appoint an independent expert to assist in the redraw process.Posted — Updated
The high court voted along party lines to strike down the maps Republican lawmakers approved in November 2021 and left it to the trial court to oversee the redraw.
The three-judge panel overseeing the redraw process includes two Republicans and one Democrat. The judges will decide by noon on Feb. 23 whether the U.S. House, state House, and state Senate maps the GOP-controlled legislature is now redrawing comply with the high court’s order. The panel can also decide to go with plans submitted by voting rights groups whose legal arguments caused the maps Republicans passed in November to be struck down.
In the meantime, the three Wake County Superior Court judges will soon appoint an independent redistricting expert known as a special master to assist in the redraw process.
Here’s where things presently stand on redistricting in North Carolina:
Fight over a special master
Republican attorneys and voting groups have had the opportunity to share who they think the trial court should name as the special master.
The special master is tasked with advising the court on maps being put forward by the Republican-controlled legislature and voting rights groups. Whoever the court appoints may also have the opportunity to draw maps if the trial court determines the legislature insufficiently redrew legislative and congressional lines.
According to trial court documents, Republicans want the three-judge panel to select John Morgan, a conservative demographer and map-drawing expert who voting groups argue is unfit to objectively advise the court on the fairness of maps the legislature and the plaintiffs are expected to provide.
The North Carolina League of Conservation Voters and Common Cause NC, two of the plaintiffs in the case, want the trial court to appoint Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford Law School professor. Persily has previously been a special master in North Carolina and played a prominent role in a recent redrawing of election maps.
In December 2021, the Connecticut State Supreme selected Persily to help redraw the state’s congressional district lines after a legislative commission couldn’t agree on voting maps.
North Carolina’s three-judge panel has not yet decided whether they will name Morgan, Persily or a different person of their choosing.
Whose maps will the court choose?
The North Carolina State Supreme Court’s order last week didn’t clearly spell out whether the trial court should favor map proposals from the legislature or voting rights groups.
As Republican lawmakers, voting groups and political observers await a full opinion from the high court for more clarity, political experts expect the trial court to give more weight to maps drawn by state lawmakers since they represent the branch of government tasked with redrawing maps following the decennial U.S. Census.
Michael Bitzer, a politics professor at Catawba College, and Chris Cooper, a Western Carolina University political scientist who also served as an expert witness last month for voting rights groups challenging the maps Republicans passed in November, expect the trial court to give more weight to maps passed by the legislature so long as they comply with the state Supreme Court’s order and are supported by a special master.
Even so, the Supreme Court order allows plaintiffs to submit their own maps, which the trial court could accept. The three judges may also decide to have the special master craft a separate set of maps if they deem the General Assembly’s plans inadequate.
What the redraw process looks like
Every 10 years, maps are drawn by state lawmakers. Because the ones they passed were struck down, the GOP-controlled legislature is now tasked with redrawing the U.S. House and state House and Senate plans. As this is happening, voting groups also get to submit their proposals.
The legislature’s two chambers have adopted different strategies. In the House, Republicans are working separately from House Democrats. In the Senate, both parties will collaborate on new maps. Each chamber is setting their own legislative boundaries but will work together on the congressional map.
Republicans, who have received criticism for not redrawing the maps in a public setting, say that voting rights groups and House Democrats are also not transparent. Even so, Democrats have called for the public to have greater visibility into the process. The plaintiffs in the case are not a taxpayer-funded government body.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is representing one of the plaintiffs in the case, declined to discuss their potential redraws.
According to a trial court order issued this week, all participants involved in the process of drawing proposed maps must be disclosed to the court. They must also inform the judges about “the extent to which partisan considerations and election results data were a factor in the drawing of the Proposed Remedial Plans.”
When will the maps be finished?
The redraw process from the legislature will likely extend into late next week, according to Blue and Berger.
Lawmakers and voting groups must submit maps by 5 p.m. on Feb. 18. Attorneys for voting rights groups and Republican lawmakers then have until 5 p.m. on Feb. 21 to comment on the opposing sides’ maps. The panel must then select a map by noon on Feb. 23. Any emergency appeal of the trial court’s decision must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Feb. 23.
Candidate filing for the 2022 statewide primary and rescheduled municipal elections are scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. Feb. 24 and end at noon March 4.
What’s at stake?
The maps state lawmakers propose are likely to be more favorable to Republicans than the plans voting rights groups will put forward. The trial court’s decision will hold major implications this election cycle.
If a special master becomes deeply involved and the high court can’t meet an aggressive timetable outlined by the state Supreme Court, the planned May 17 primary could be pushed back yet again. The primary had originally been scheduled 10 weeks earlier.
The finalized lines will shape candidates’ decisions on where to compete and how to campaign. And while the lines may be finalized for the 2022 election, state lawmakers can redraw the congressional lines ahead of the 2024 election and may be able to redraw legislative lines if they successfully appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or see the state Supreme Court gain a conservative majority after 2022.
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