NC House Republicans OK redrawn chamber map that boosts Democrats ahead of 2022 election

North Carolina House Republican lawmakers approved an updated redistricting plan that is likely to help Democrats prevent the GOP from regaining a supermajority in the chamber.

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Bryan Anderson
Travis Fain, WRAL statehouse reporters,
Laura Leslie, WRAL capitol bureau chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — New maps outlining legislative boundaries passed key committees in North Carolina’s General Assembly Wednesday, moving the legislature toward meeting a court order demanding the redraws by Friday. A compromise on a new congressional map, however, was not reached.
North Carolina House and Senate Republicans are working toward new redistricting plans that give Democrats better prospects heading into the 2022 election. Meanwhile, a trial court overseeing the redraw process appointed three independent redistricting experts.

A busy day at the Capitol was stretched out by delayed hearings, closed-door talks and a blow up between state senators, with the chamber's top Democrat and Republican taking aim at one another. The House found bipartisanship in the normally riven process, though, approving with a 115-5 vote a new version of its chamber map after Republicans accepted a series of Democratic amendments.

“We came from probably being very far apart on maps to, ultimately, reaching a deal,” Rep. Destin Hall, the Republican Party’s lead mapmaker in the House, said during the night-time final vote.

"Nobody came out of this happy," House Democratic Leader Robert Reives said. "What we were happy about was that we came to an agreement that both of us could live with.”

Movement on the Congressional map will likely come Thursday. Hall, R-Caldwell, said House and Senate leaders were "still hammering it out" Wednesday night. The final map may morphy, but a version the Senate rolled out Wednesday would give the GOP at most nine of the 14 U.S. House seats up for grabs, according to analyses from North Carolina political scientists.

The Senate must pass its chamber map as well, which it's expected to do Thursday after moving the new map through committee Wednesday.

These redraws are required because the state Supreme Court struck down voting maps the legislature's Republican majority passed in November. The court's decision was the result of lawsuits that voting rights groups brought against GOP lawmakers, arguing the maps diluted the voting power of Democrats and racial minorities and violated the state constitution.

The high court, in a decision that broke on party lines, agreed.

Whatever new maps the legislature finalizes this week will be reviewed by a lower court tasked by the state Supreme Court with overseeing the redraw. The three judges in Wake County Superior Court, two Republicans and one Democrat, must first consider proposals from the legislature.

If they find the boundaries fail to comply with the Supreme Court's order, the panel could choose to go with new election maps submitted by voting rights groups or a group of independent redistricting experts advising the three-judge panel. The court on Wednesday selected former conservative North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justices Bob Orr and Bob Edmunds, and Tom Ross, a former University of North Carolina system president, as those experts known as “special masters.”

The three special masters are expected to help the high court review all voting map proposals.

Ross is a Democrat and Edmunds is a Republican. Orr, a longtime Republican until last year, left the party after years of frustration with the party's ideological shift under President Donald Trump. Orr is now registered as an unaffiliated voter.

The new House map still has to clear the state Senate Thursday to become an official submission to the court, but it's expected to do so easily. Asher Hildebrand, a Duke University political scientist and former Democratic operative, said an early version of the House map to give Republicans a 55-41 edge in the 2022 elections before 24 competitive districts are taken into account.

In a state that is nearly evenly split politically, Democrats would need to win 20 of the 24 swing districts in that early version to capture a simple majority, according to Hildebrand. Meanwhile, Republicans would need to win one-fourth of the tight races.

Hall said the final House map leans a bit more toward Democrats than earlier versions. Republicans currently hold a 69-51 seat advantage in the House.

Republicans accepted six of seven proposed amendments to the map, touching voting precincts in a dozen counties. They voted down one amendment, from Rep. Pricey Harrison, who said it was needed to address a potential Voting Rights Act issue in Wayne County.

Harrison, D-Guilford, predicted further legal wrangling without the amendment. Hall said the amendment would actually make the new map illegal and Reives said it was an honest disagreement on the law, not a partisan one.

On the Senate side, where there's a 28-22 GOP edge, a bipartisan deal was more elusive.

“After a week of working with Senate Democrats on a collaborative map-drawing process for the Senate map, we have not been able to reach a consensus," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the chamber's Republican leader, said in a statement. "I met with (Senate Democratic Leader Dan) Blue on several occasions to hash out details, but at the end of the day yesterday it was clear we were not going to reach an agreement on how to respond to the court’s directions."

Blue countered Berger on Twitter minutes later, writing: "This process has not been collaborative, and it is clear to me that Senate Republicans had no real interest in finding a legislative solution."

Last week, the two leaders had sought to prove both parties could unify behind the redraw process.

Hildebrand, the Duke University political scientist, said the Senate's plan is likely to remain at 28-22 under the proposed map.

Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College redistricting expert, said the proposed Senate map includes 22 likely to go to Republicans, 18 expected to go to Democrats and 10 seats up for grabs. Of the 10 competitive races, Bitzer believes six are more favorable to Democrats in 2022 while four favor Republicans.

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

The voting groups in the lawsuit that sparked the redraw can also submit map proposals to the court, and spokespeople for the plaintiff groups either said they'll watch the legislature's process before deciding whether to do so or declined comment.

Lawmakers and the plaintiffs have until 5 p.m. Friday to submit new voting maps. They then have until 5 p.m. on Feb. 21 to comment on the opposing sides’ maps. The panel must select legislative and congressional maps 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 May 17 statewide primary and rescheduled municipal elections is scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. Feb. 24 under the new maps and end at noon March 4. The Supreme Court previously delayed the election by 10 weeks to allow the redistricting case to work its way through the court system prior to the election.


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