Proposed NC congressional redraw boosts Democrats' 2022 prospects

A panel of three North Carolina judges are expected to decide whether updated voting maps comply with a state Supreme Court order that had struck down earlier maps as partisan gerrymanders

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Bryan Anderson
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina lawmakers began floating proposed voting maps late Tuesday—the latest move in the GOP’s effort to comply with a state Supreme Court order calling for fairer legislative and congressional lines.

Rep. Destin Hall, a Republican leader on the state House's redistricting committee, shared a proposed congressional map on Twitter late Tuesday. The map, if approved, would give Democrats a modest boost heading into the 2022 election and stave off one of the party’s biggest fears: Republicans receiving substantially more power over them in the U.S. Congress and the North Carolina General Assembly.

On Wednesday morning, House Republicans also released a state House plan.

The suggested maps the latest step in a contentious redistricting battle that could shape political power for the next decade in a state where voters are nearly evenly divided along party lines. Proposed maps from state senators were expected to be released Wednesday.

The redraw effort follows a state Supreme Court order compelling the Republican-controlled legislature to try again after their voting maps were struck down this month by the high court. House Republicans are expected to vote on new maps in a committee meeting Wednesday, according to Demi Dowdy, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Tim Moore.

The congressional map Hall put forward would likely give Republicans a 9-5 advantage at most, according to four redistricting experts.

Under the congressional map Republicans passed in the fall, the GOP would have likely won 10 or 11 of the 14 U.S. House seats up for grabs, according to nonpartisan redistricting analyses. The lopsided advantage was achieved in part by splitting Mecklenburg, Wake and Guilford counties into three parts. Hall's plan divides each of those counties into two parts.

North Carolina's current congressional delegation includes eight Republicans and five Democrats. A 14th congressional seat will be added in 2022 due to population growth.

Political scientists Chris Cooper of Western Carolina University, Eric Heberlig of UNC-Charlotte, Michael Bitzer of Catawba College and Asher Hildebrand of Duke University expect Democrats to win the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th and 12th congressional districts under Hall's plan, while Republicans would likely win the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 13th districts.

The redistricting experts are divided on which party might capture the 8th and 14th districts.

Bitzer said those two districts in Hall's plan are likeliest to be the most competitive. It's too early to say which way they lean until Hall provides precinct-level data, Bitzer said.

"They are very, very close," he said.

Hall on Wednesday morning posted an initial state House map proposal.

The state Senate late Tuesday was working on at least one U.S. House map of its own. A Senate redistricting committee hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday. The House committee will meet at 11 a.m.

Moore and state Senate leader Phil Berger hope to conclude the redraw process with Thursday floor votes, spokespeople for the Republicans said.

Voting and civil rights groups, meanwhile, spoke outside the Capitol Tuesday, calling for a more transparent process and one they hope will result in fairer maps.

"In this next round of map-drawing, we're asking our representatives to do what they didn't do the first time: To draw voting maps that put people above politics,” said Maria Gonzalez, policy advocate manager for El Pueblo, a group that advocates for Hispanics in North Carolina.

Whatever maps the legislature ultimately approves will be subject to clearance from a panel of three judges in Wake County Superior Court. The court last month allowed the maps the GOP passed in November to remain in place. The state Supreme Court’s 4-3 Democratic majority overrode that decision on Feb. 4 and ordered the maps struck down.
In a full opinion, issued Monday, Justice Robin Hudson wrote on behalf of her Democratic colleagues that each voter’s ballot should carry “roughly the same weight when drawing a redistricting plan that translates votes into seats in a legislative body.” She noted the high court is not advocating for proportional representation.

“The fact that one party commands 59% of the statewide vote share in a given election does not entitle the voters of that party to have representatives of its party comprise 59% of the North Carolina House, North Carolina Senate, or North Carolina congressional delegation,” Hudson wrote. “But those voters are entitled to have substantially the same opportunity to electing a supermajority or majority of representatives as the voters of the opposing party would be afforded if they comprised 59% of the statewide vote share in that same election.”

Court review

The state House and Senate maps that were struck down would’ve given the GOP a stronger chance of regaining veto-proof control of the General Assembly and expanded representation in the U.S. House.

In North Carolina, state lawmakers are tasked with redrawing congressional and legislative boundaries every 10 years. Because Republicans control the state House and Senate, they were able to pass voting maps highly favorable to their party.

The heavy congressional partisan advantage for Republicans was achieved in large part by splitting Wake, Guilford and Mecklenburg County into thirds. Berger told reporters Tuesday he thinks the counties that include the cities of Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte should now be split no more than once each.

“What I’d like to see is a map that gets accepted by the court,” Berger said.

If the three-judge panel rejects North Carolina’s legislative and congressional maps, it could go with proposals from voting rights groups or an independent redistricting expert that has yet to be appointed. To meet a state Supreme Court deadline and maintain the May 17 primary schedule, the lower court must approve new maps by noon 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.

Whatever the finalized maps become are likely to boost Democrats’ prospects heading into the 2022 election, though the boost may be short-lived if Republican lawmakers gain a conservative Supreme Court majority in November or if they successfully appeal the state Supreme Court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The legislature could adjust the U.S. House maps for greater political advantage after the 2022 election. It remains to be seen whether state lawmakers could also retool state House and Senate maps ahead of the 2024 election and keep them in place for the remainder of the decade.

The Supreme Court justices didn’t provide specifics in their full opinion about how lawmakers could avoid future litigation. Hudson wrote that the Democratic justices didn’t find it necessary to share “an exhaustive set of metrics or precise mathematical thresholds which conclusively demonstrate or disprove the existence of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.”

Chief Justice Paul Newby blasted the high court’s decision, writing on behalf of the high court’s three conservative justices that the Democratic judges are now “policymakers.”

“The majority says courts must protect constitutional rights. This is true,” Newby wrote in the dissenting opinion. “Courts are not, however, to judicially amend the constitution to create those rights.”

Allegations of racial gerrymandering

Former NC NAACP leader Rev. William Barber II on Tuesday said the high court’s intervention was necessary because the maps had diluted the voting power of racial minorities and low-income North Carolinians.

“They engaged in voter suppression and they engaged in racialized gerrymandering that hurt all people in this state,” Barber said. “They created what we called an impoverished democracy.

“Last night, the [Supreme Court] said beyond a reasonable doubt that what was done in this partisan gerrymander was violating the constitution of this state and the rights of Black voters, Latino voters and low-income voters.”

Republican state lawmakers have insisted that they did not look at partisan or racial data when drawing districts—a claim that cannot be proven because map-makers used so-called “concept maps” unseen by the public to draw parts of their state House map. Those maps were not saved and are “currently lost and no longer exist,” according to a court filing from Republican attorneys.
Lawmakers have adopted a more secretive approach to redrawing maps than their initial map-making process last year that enabled the public to watch lawmakers draw boundaries in real time.

House Republicans, for example, have spent the past week meeting behind closed curtains in a conference room on the second floor of the Capitol. House Democrats assembled across the street in a room labeled “Research” located on the fifth floor of the Legislative Office Building.


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