Lawsuit: Republican legislators lied about election maps

Once secret files from GOP mapmaker lay bare the lies, advocacy group says in court filing.

Posted Updated

Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Attorneys suing General Assembly leaders over state election maps accused those leaders and their legal team Thursday of lying to a federal judge and to the public, saying documents from a cache of computerized files prove the lies.

The files come from computer drives that once belonged to Tom Hofeller, a Republican mapmaker who worked on North Carolina's contested maps and congressional maps in other states. They "reveal false statements and material omissions made by legislative defendants to the federal district court" in an earlier gerrymandering case, attorneys for Common Cause and the N.C. Democratic Party said in a motion filed Thursday in Wake County Superior Court.

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, for years the point man for redistricting efforts in the House and the lead defendant in the lawsuit, said Thursday that lawmakers drew their maps "exactly as we asserted that we did." He followed up with a written statement, calling it "a complete fabrication that I made any misrepresentation to the court."

Common Cause's motion asserts that:

  • Lewis and other defendants told a federal judge in July 2017 not to call a special election using new General Assembly maps because they needed time to draw those maps. But the Hofeller files "reveal that not only had work on the remedial plans begun well before July 2017, but that the new state House and state Senate plans were already substantially complete by the end of June 2017."
  • A September 2017 submission to the court said the map-drawing process began at the end of June that year and that criteria for the draw were set in August. But "the Hofeller files reveal that Dr. Hofeller had in fact already substantially completed drawing the 2017 plans in June 2017 ... a month and a half before the adopted criteria were even introduced and adopted."
  • The Republican legal team repeatedly told the court, in what was then a racial gerrymandering case, that they didn't use racial data to draw the 2017 maps and that this data wasn't even loaded into the computer used to make the new maps. But "the Hofeller files reveal that Dr. Hofeller had data on the racial composition of the proposed districts in every one of his draft maps, including drafts prepared after he was formally retained by legislative defendants."

The motion did not include the actual Hofeller files, which attorneys for General Assembly leadership have asked a judge to declare confidential. The group said in its motion that "the evidence and full details of these false statements will be made clear at trial."

Lewis said the maps he presented to the legislature in 2017 were drawn on a state computer, and that he didn't have any "input or control" over "any play maps Dr. Hofeller may have drawn on his personal computer on his own time.”

Legislative staff produced a 2017 email on Friday that showed a fresh computer being set up for Hofeller to work on at the legislature, and a contract dated June 27, 2017, engaging him to redraw the maps in question.

Staffers also said that, because of state laws limiting the way maps can be drawn in North Carolina, most maps are going to look very similar. Common Cause said in its filing Thursday that the Hofeller's files indicate he had completed more than 97 percent of the Senate map and more than 90 percent of the House map by June 2017.

"North Carolina’s state maps are mostly created by a pre-determined formula based on population," state Sen. Warren Daniel, who co-chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee, said in a statement Friday. "Therefore, to argue that mostly completed maps are indicative of some premeditated scheme is misleading – the maps are always mostly competed because of the requirements in the constitution.”

Hofeller drew maps for the North Carolina legislature at least as far back as 2011, producing redraws as different versions were struck down by repeated legal challenges. He also worked as an expert witness for Republican legislators defending maps in Covington v. North Carolina, the federal case at issue in Common Cause's latest filing.

But he was not paid to draw remedial legislative maps in that case before the June 27th contract, according to Pat Ryan, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Lewis said in his statement Thursday that, "if Common Cause’s only 'evidence' (which nobody has seen) is that some play maps exist on the computer of a map-maker who didn’t work at the General Assembly, then that is not even relevant."

Coincidentally, Lewis on Thursday led a meeting in which a House committee adopted maps for Wake County House districts drawn by a court-appointed expert to replace districts lawmakers drew in 2017. Courts threw out the districts in a separate lawsuit after plaintiffs said lawmakers redrew districts that didn't need to be changed to fix racial gerrymanders in an earlier map.

Common Cause further accused the GOP legal team of trying to claw back Hofeller's records – which the group got from his estranged daughter after his death last year – after recent revelations that Hofeller contributed language to a U.S. Department of Justice letter that was used to justify a citizenship question the Trump administration wants included on the coming U.S. Census.

That came to light last week after Common Cause's legal team forwarded some of the Hofeller files to attorneys fighting the question in a federal lawsuit out of New York.

Republican attorneys in the Common Cause case asked a judge here to prevent any further sharing of the files one day, Common Cause said in its filing, after attorneys in the census case filed their motion on the Hofeller files, which called into question the truthfulness of government witnesses in that case.

Attempts to reach Phil Strach, one of the lead attorneys for GOP leadership in the North Carolina case, and other lawyers on the case were not immediately successful Thursday.

This is not the first time Lewis and his colleagues have been accused of pre-drawing these maps. Legislative Democrats suggested as much repeatedly during the 2017 process, saying they believed Republican majority leaders had secret maps ready to go before the public part of the process began.

Lewis denied it, and later a recording emerged wherein a Republican legislator suggested that House Majority Leader John Bell knew what his district would look like "a long time before" other legislators because he enrolled his daughter in a swim club in his new district well before the map was public.
There was also an open-mic mishap at the legislature in 2011, which allowed members of the press to listen in as House Republicans talked strategy. House Majority Leader Skip Stam told other caucus members to let Lewis talk about redistricting during the coming floor debate "because it's extremely sensitive .... (and) "David can obfuscate more than anybody I know."

Common Cause's accusations were first reported Thursday by The New York Times, which had advance access to the filing. Republicans accused the group of timing the filing with the newspaper's report, so a one-sided narrative would take hold before they could read the filing and respond.

"Plaintiffs are resorting to outlandish hit pieces because they know their legal case is weak," Lewis said in his statement.

The name of the case is Common Cause v. Lewis.


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