NC Capitol

NC Capitol

Secret maps, now gone, were used to draw parts of NC election map

Posted January 5, 2022 2:45 p.m. EST
Updated January 6, 2022 8:55 a.m. EST

North Carolina map-makers used “concept maps” unseen by the public to draw parts of the new state House map now under scrutiny in an ongoing gerrymandering lawsuit, according to a key lawmaker’s deposition in the case.

House Rules Chairman Destin Hall, who spearheaded the House’s redistricting process, told lawyers suing the state legislature over these maps that he and key staffers retreated to a private room for “strategy sessions” while drawing maps in a public room at the statehouse.

At times Hall’s in-house lawyer, Dylan Reel, brought the concept maps they discussed into the public drawing room on his phone, displaying it while Hall drew lines on the public terminal, lawyers in the case said in a filing last week.

Those maps were not saved and are “currently lost and no longer exist,” Hall’s legal team said in its response filing.

The admission stands in contrast to repeated public promises from Hall and other Republican lawmakers involved in the map-making that this was the most transparent redistricting in North Carolina history.

GOP leaders repeatedly said they didn’t use any racial or voting history data to draw their maps. They argue that, since they ignored this information, they couldn’t have gerrymandered maps to help Republicans get elected, even though the maps they produced are expected to elect healthy GOP majorities in the state House, Senate and North Carolina’s U.S. House of Representatives delegation.

The case—which combines multiple lawsuits questioning new congressional and state legislative maps, as well as the map-making process—is before a state-selected panel of judges in Wake County Superior Court this week.

Voting rights groups and other plaintiffs sued state Republican leaders, alleging that the new maps are so biased toward Republicans that they violate the right to a free and fair election. Republican defendants say they complied with map-drawing guidelines.

Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for Thursday. The state Supreme Court, which is expected to ultimately hear the case on appeal, ordered the Wake panel to issue a ruling by Tuesday.

On Wednesday, lawyers for Republican leaders continued their defense, calling Hall, R-Caldwell, and others to the stand.

'No election data'

Hall testified that the concept maps “played very little role” in his official map draw and that they didn’t rely on racial or partisan data. He said they were a time saver relied upon as it became clear he wouldn’t finish a complicated redistricting process in the time allotted and that they weren’t “something I sought to copy.”

“No election data or anything like that,” Hall testified, adding that he’d look at them for “a matter of seconds.”

The plaintiffs lawyers objected to this testimony because the concept maps apparently no longer exist and can’t be reviewed. Their motion argues that destroying these maps violates state law, which makes redistricting materials public after maps have passed.

“Representative Hall would study these concept maps in the private room, and then rely on them to draw district lines for that particular county cluster on the public terminal,” plaintiffs’ lawyers in the case wrote.

Reel, who has since left Hall’s office to become a vice president of government operations for the lobbying and law firm McGuireWoods, did not immediately return a voicemail seeking comment.

Neal Inman, Chief of Staff for Republican Speaker of the House Tim Moore, declined comment given the ongoing lawsuit. Inman, according to Hall’s deposition, was in the room at times when the concept maps were reviewed.

Hall’s legal team said in its filing that these maps were only used to draw portions of the House map, and that they weren’t used to draw state Senate or congressional maps. Hall said in his deposition that he relied on the concept maps for about five House county clusters: Wake County, Pitt County, the Forsyth-Stokes cluster, potentially Mecklenburg County and possibly others, the plaintiffs said in their motion.

Hall’s lawyers called this “very limited” reliance on the maps, but these are key counties in the map making process. Many of those areas are Democratic strongholds.

The Republican legal team also pointed to Sen. Ralph Hise’s deposition in this case. Hise, a key mapmaker in the state Senate, said in that deposition that he didn’t know about the concept maps during the map-making process, that he never discussed them with Hall and that he wasn’t aware of any concept maps being used in the Senate redraw.

Hise is also on the stand this afternoon, testifying before the three-judge panel considering whether the maps in question are constitutional or must be redrawn before North Carolina’s 2022 elections. Where those map lines ultimately end up will help decide the balance of political power in the state House, Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

WRAL News asked House leadership, as well as Reel, in November whether they used partisan data outside the map-making room, asking whether a consultant “or someone like that” relied on partisan data to draw maps that were consulted in the public map making process.

“No consultants were involved, period,” Reel responded at the time.

Hall told fellow lawmakers the same thing when they debated the House map in November. That was after the map was fully drawn and needed only final approval.

“Every part of this map-making process was done in public and was recorded and archived for anyone who would like to go see how the maps were drawn," Hall said as the debate began.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, asked Hall what he was doing when he left the public map-making room during the drawing process. Their exchange is archived online in a WRAL News livestream of the debate.

"When you left the room, was there any materials that you referred to or consulted with to make changes when you came back into the room to keep drawing the maps?" Morey asked. "Was there any demographic material, other materials you would use to make changes?"

"No," Hall responded.

"Were there any consultants, experts, individuals you would consult with when you would be drawing the map, leaving the room, coming back and sitting down to continue your work?" Morey asked.

"There were no outside consultants that I used at all in any way in the drawing of this map," Hall replied.

More testimony on math, race

Other testimony Wednesday focused on the defense’s response to core issues in this case: The maps’ impact on minority voters and the math plaintiffs are using to try and convince judges to order redraws.

Jeffrey Lewis, a UCLA political science professor, presented a report on racially polarized voting in North Carolina, which was conducted after the maps were drawn.

Lewis testified that his analysis shows that majority-minority districts are no longer necessary for Black voters in North Carolina to be able to elect the candidate of their choice. His analysis also noted that, of all the elections he had studied for the report, Black voters’ candidates of choice were Democrats in every case.

The court also heard from the defense’s lead expert witness, BYU political science professor Michael Barber, who submitted a report saying that his analysis does not show the legislative maps to be extreme outliers.

Barber testified that the state’s political geography accounts for the Republican advantage in the enacted maps. He said Democratic areas tend to be more homogenous and densely populated, while Republican areas tend to be more spread out and more heterogeneous.

“When we draw districts that are required to be compact, contiguous and have all these properties that we are going to talk about, you end up with districts where you have very large majorities of Democrats, and in the districts where you have majorities of Republicans, you tend to not have quite so large majorities,” he said.

He said statewide analyses aren’t accurate because districts in North Carolina have to adhere to county groupings, which he compared to the electoral college in its tendency to complicate victories by popular vote.

Barber also testified that mathematical simulations can’t capture the political will of lawmakers who drew the districts.

“Legislators have different views, different interests, even within the same party,” he said. “There's often disagreement among legislators about how a bill should look, and in this case, it might be how a map looks.

“Lots of inputs go into the legislative process, and it's much the same way with redistricting. And so when a district at the end comes out the way that it does, there could be a variety of explanations for why the districts look the way that they do.”

Barber also defended his algorithm against criticism from plaintiffs' witness Moon Duchin, a mathematician at Tufts University. Duchin said it was overly restrictive and that Barber had effectively “put his thumb on the scale” to eliminate most maps that would have shown the enacted maps to be outliers. Barber said he had not selected for outcomes when he decided on his criteria for exclusion.

Barber testified that in many cases, his analysis and a proposed map from one plaintiff, the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, don’t disagree on the likely splits in county groupings. In most counties, they don’t disagree, he said.

In a lengthy cross-examination, plaintiffs’ lawyer Stanton Jones highlighted a key mathematical mistake in Barber’s expert report. Taking him through a variety of contested districts, Jones won concessions in each case from Barber that the districts were indeed partisan outliers under his own analytical methods, contrary to his earlier testimony.

Barber also agreed with Jones that every time the House and Senate maps deviated from his analysis, it was in favor of Republicans.

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