The House and Senate Redistricting committees voted on party lines today to approve proposals for new voting maps for the House, Senate, and congressional seats.
The Senate committee met twice Friday, once on the congressional map, and once on their own map. Senate Democrats offered one amendment to the congressional map, which was defeated. They offered no amendments to the Senate map, saying they prefer to present their alternative plan on the Senate floor next week.
House Democrats adopted the same strategy in tonight’s House Redistricting meeting. No amendments were offered. But there was plenty of debate.
As in earlier meetings, Democrats complained too many precincts would be split in the GOP plan – 402 in the House proposal, compared to 200 in the current version. Democrats said that would cost local officials money for special ballots and poll workers, and would confuse voters.
House Redistricting Chairman David Lewis replied that precincts are “not a concept that’s addressed specifically in statute or case law that I’m aware of, and was not a consideration in the drafting of this plan.”
Democrats also argued over the GOP tactic of boosting percentages of minority voters in districts where race relations are good and minority candidates are already being elected.
“For the past 6 elections, my particular district has had less than 50% minority participation, and I had no problem being elected,” said Rep. Marvin Lucas, D-Sampson. “So I have a problem trying to understand the need.”
But House and Senate Republicans said creating “majority-minority districts” with minority voting populations of over 50% is required by legal precedent, and will help insulate the case from potentially costly lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Democrats accused Republicans of misreading the law in an effort to “pack” minority voters into a handful of districts, diluting their influence on elections in surrounding areas. But Lewis accused the Democrats of attempting to “incite and confuse and frustrate the issue, and scare people.”
More on Hofeller
Democrats also asked some pointed questions about the hiring of Republican redistricting guru Tom Hofeller.
Lewis confirmed Hofeller is being paid with taxpayer dollars through attorneys hired by House and Senate redistricting chairs – an arrangement he said was modeled on a similar setup by Democrats in 1991.
Rep. Roy Rapp, D-Madison, asked whether Hofeller would be available to answer questions at the General Assembly during next week’s debate.
“Mr. Hofeller was retained and employed by the outside counsel, and is not an employee of the General Assembly,” Lewis said, “and the short answer is no.”
”The pay for this individual is coming from the General Assembly, correct?” Rapp followed up.
“There are no checks to my knowledge to Mr. Hofeller that have been signed by the General Assembly,” Lewis answered. “He was retained by our counsel.”
Asked after the meeting whether taxpayers deserve to know how much public money was spent on Hofeller’s consulting services, Lewis said, “I’m sure all of that is indeed public information, yes.” Although he stressed he is not a lawyer, he said he doesn’t believe that information would be protected by attorney-client privilege.
No Dem maps
Like their Senate colleagues, House Democrats have not offered an alternative plan for voting districts. After the meeting tonight, Lewis said he’s frustrated by their lack of participation.
Lewis said Republicans have been asking for participation from Democrats, the Legislative Black Caucus, and the NAACP since February.
“It is extremely disappointing to be criticized for not taking input when no input has been provided,” Lewis said. “There’s been in my opinion a concerted effort to make sure nothing comes forward, despite the fact that we have provided the resources for maps to be drawn.”
“We’ve taken part in numerous ways,” responded House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange. “We took a very active role in criticizing the plan when they rolled out the VRA plans.” He said the African-American community was vocal about its opposition to the GOP plan, too.
“We will, at the proper time, show maps which do it in a way that we think is correct.”
When asked whether the proper time might not have been earlier in the process, when people would have been able to see the Democrats’ alternatives, Hackney replied, “Well, people will be able to see them.”
“There was no danger the majority was going to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to adopt your maps instead’,” he said. “Do you think there was?”