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Redistricting bills stagnant as Supreme Court mulls political gerrymanders

Half a dozen proposals to change the way North Carolina draws election lines sitting in committee.

Posted Updated

By
Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Anti-gerrymandering bills haven't gone very far this legislative session, despite some of them having enough co-sponsors to pass the House with bipartisan support.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, who has pushed for redistricting reform for years, said there seems to be a wait-and-see approach to the issue as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the broader matter of whether political gerrymanders are constitutional.

A decision in those cases, one from North Carolina and another from Maryland, is expected within the next two months. That could change the way states across the country draw district lines – or continue to allow legislatures to use the process to press a political advantage.

"Once that case is decided, I think leadership will have to decide whether a bill is moved or whether they'll wait until a case reaches the N.C. Supreme Court," McGrady said in a text message Tuesday.

There are half a dozen bills changing the way North Carolina draws its election districts sitting at the legislature. McGrady has two with more than 60 co-sponsors, enough to pass the House even if no one else voted for them.

Leadership hasn't brought those bills to the floor, though, perhaps signaling that they don't have enough support in the Republican House caucus to make the move. Republicans hold majorities in both the House and the Senate.

Common Cause, a left-leaning good-government group that has sued the state over gerrymandered maps, held a lobbying day Tuesday, asking lawmakers to move some of the bills forward.

Several of them would ask voters to change the state constitution, which would mean a statewide referendum. Others create a new commission to draw maps that the legislature would then vote up or down.

A rundown of the bills:

  • House Bill 69 is one of McGrady's bills, and it has 66 sponsors. It would create an appointed commission that would hold public hearings and draw maps that the legislature would vote up or down without a chance to make changes. If the General Assembly voted the map down, the commission would try again.
  • House Bill 140 is another McGrady bill, and it has 65 sponsors. It would ask voters to change the state constitution. If passed, legislative staff would draw maps, and the General Assembly would vote on them.
  • House Bill 648 creates a new commission that would hire an expert to draw maps, with the commission choosing one of those maps to submit to the General Assembly. The General Assembly could alter that map before final passage.
  • House Bill 827 also creates a commission to hire an expert and draw maps.
  • Senate Bill 673 would amend the state constitution if voters approve, creating an appointed commission that would have the final say on new maps without a General Assembly vote.
  • House Bill 574/Senate Bill 641 are broader bills but include constitutional amendments to create a redistricting commission to select an expert to draw maps, with the commission voting to adopt one.

Though there's been no sign of movement, McGrady expressed some optimism Tuesday for reforms ahead of the next big redraw, which will follow the 2020 census.

"This session has always been the session we expected to be able to move a bill," he said. "Neither Republicans nor Democrats are sure who is going to be in charge of the redistricting process. The lawsuits only provide more impetus for moving on the issue."

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