'Fair and legal?'

The Republican leaders who drew the congressional maps released today say they're "fair and legal." A redistricting reform proponent isn't so sure.

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Rucho Redistricting
Laura Leslie
Reached by phone today, Senate Redistricting Chair Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, was clearly proud of the map his joint committee released today, redrawing the state's 13 congressional districts.  

“I think everyone’s gonna be thrilled,” Rucho said.

Rucho pointed out that the new map doesn’t look much different from the old one, with the cores of the districts largely still intact. “I think there’s a lot of similarity. We used that as part of our plan to try not to confuse the voters, that was part of it. But we tried very hard to make sure it reflects the population shifts, as required by law.”

Rucho also says most of the proposed new districts are competitive for Democrats because they include more registered Democratic voters than registered Republicans. “That’s what people asked us to do. People said, ‘We’d like competitive districts.’ They got their wish.”

Through most of the state, Rucho said, he and House Chair David Lewis, R-Harnett, “were very conscious of making sure we got whole counties where we could.” But he doesn’t deny most of the state’s urban counties are as divided – or more so – than in current maps.

“One of the things that we were trying to address is that most of the urban counties have diverse population and diverse interests, and what we thought might be valuable would be to allow them to have the opportunity to be heard by a couple of voices in Congress,” Rucho explained. “I can’t imagine that wouldn’t be advantageous.”

“The previous map was Democratic gerrymandering," Rucho said. "This is fair and legal.”

'Hard to define'

“They’re probably legal. It’s hard to define fair,” said Jane Pinsky with the NC Coalition for Redistricting Reform, a nonpartisan group trying to change the state’s process for drawing maps.

Pinsky noted that none of the analysts who’ve written about the maps so far, including national expert Stuart Rothenberg, thinks they’re competitive for four targeted Democrats when historical voting patterns are factored in. “I think they did a brilliant job of subtly moving the lines,” she said. “The lines aren’t that different, but they’re just different enough that they’re not really competitive.”

“The Democrats have done the same thing for 140 years, so it’s understandable,” Pinsky said. “If I was somebody who’d been shut out of the game for 140 years, I’d probably want a chance to do it my way, too. But I was kind of hoping” the Republicans would do it differently, she said.

“Most of all, to me it says we have to get partisan politics out of this process.”

Pinsky’s group is backing a bill that would make North Carolina’s process a nonpartisan one like Iowa’s, which does not allow lawmakers to draw their own districts. She said North Carolina has the most litigious redistricting track record in the country, with 24 of the last 30 maps winding up in court.

“The day this bill becomes law, someone will file suit,” Pinsky said. ”That’s the one thing I can guarantee.”


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