Senate, House approve each other's voting district maps

The General Assembly met a court-imposed deadline of adopting new legislative district maps by Wednesday, with each chamber approving the other's map on Tuesday.

Posted Updated

Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — The General Assembly met a court-imposed deadline of adopting new legislative district maps by Wednesday, with each chamber approving the other's map on Tuesday.

The Senate voted 24-21 along party lines for the House map, while the House voted 62-52 for the Senate map, with two Democrats voting in favor and one Republican against.

The votes came one day after the Senate voted 38-9 in favor of its own map after a week of intense map-making to enact a court order that struck down the current map as an unfair Republican gerrymander.

The chambers held a joint public hearing on the new maps Monday, though the House had already approved its map Friday. Neither chamber amended its map after the public hearing, but House Democrats continued to balk over the district lines in Columbus, Pender and Robeson counties.

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said he and Senate Redistricting Co-chairman Ralph Hise tried Tuesday to redraw those lines in a way the House would accept in a bipartisan fashion.

"After conferring with the leaders from the House on the two different re-drawings that Sen. Hise had made in public," said Blue, D-Wake, "they still couldn't to those changes."

The panel of three state judges who gave the legislature two weeks for the redraw will now decide, with the help of a Stanford University law professor assigned to referee, whether legislators fixed problems that the court found.

The court may tweak the new maps, moving the lines that decide what legislative district people vote in. Democrats on the House side have predicted that the redraw in Robeson, Columbus and Pender counties won't pass muster with the court.

All told, the General Assembly redrew nearly 80 districts in this round of map making, out of 120 House Districts and 50 for the Senate.

Politicians have, for decades, used legislative maps to ensure some districts are safe for a Republican and some for a Democrat, and in the last 15 years, modern software has helped them do it with outstanding precision, picking voters and locking in power for the majority. But under the court order, they could move those lines only in public, with computer screens broadcasting changes in real time.

The new maps will be used only for one election, but it's a big one. The legislature elected next year will draw yet another set of maps after the 2020 census, and those maps will be used for a decade unless lawsuits again force repeated redraws.

Several Senate Democrats gave chamber Republicans high marks Monday for the process that led to their new map, and that includes members of the minority party who started out as vocal critics. Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, called them "about as close as humans can do to being fair."

"Setting aside that less than perfect start, I think we eventually got to a place where I have to admit ... we shut down attempts to re-gerrymander districts," Marcus said.

Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, one of eight Democrats voting against the Senate map, said he was voting for philosophical reasons. Politicians shouldn't draw their own maps, he said, something it would likely take a state constitutional amendment to change.

"(But) I am duty bound to acknowledge that these are the fairest maps, and this was the fairest process of my lifetime," said Jackson.

Democratic leadership in the Senate signed off on the maps, and Republicans who oversaw the process said they worked across the aisle to comply with the court order, and North Carolina's other lengthy redistricting rules, to put together the best maps they could in a short period of time.

"I think we have a good product here," said Hise, R-Mitchell.

One Republican voted against the Senate map on Monday: Sen. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, who won election last week to the U.S. House in a special election and resigned from the state Senate after Monday's session. Bishop said it was a vote against "pure judicial tyranny" from the court in the case, Common Cause v. Lewis.

If the current map was an illegal partisan gerrymander, Bishop said, so was every map in North Carolina history.

Under the North Carolina constitution, the governor doesn't have to sign off on new maps and cannot veto them, though now that the court is involved, judges will have the final say.

A number of Democrats have argued that, by starting with 1,000 House maps and 1,000 Senate maps drawn by a computer algorithm that took incumbency into account, legislators have baked in a partisan gerrymander.

"This is a step in the right direction, but it is not perfect," said Sen. Erica Smith, D-Northampton.

Many of the more than 50 speakers at the joint House-Senate public hearing Monday about the proposed district lines said the process has improved over the past but remained split on whether the replacement maps are any better than the old gerrymandered ones. Many want North Carolina to overhaul its process and give politicians less authority to draw their own district lines by moving to an appointed committee or some other nonpartisan process.

Some speakers Monday said the process the legislature used this time was still hard to follow. Committee meetings were open, and maps were drawn during them, but sometimes they were delayed for hours, and it was difficult to follow the complicated process.

"This redistricting was an improvement over the past, but it still falls well short of the full transparency that our voters need to hold their representatives accountable," Jennifer Bremer with the League of Women Voters of North Carolina told the committees.

Others tried to pitch last-minute changes to House districts, including in Columbus and Robeson counties. Some complained that the cities of High Point and Concord were split between districts.

Blue, speaking to issues with High Point in the new Senate map, said that "the split in High Point could not be fixed" because of the way the court froze some districts, forbidding legislators from touching them as they redrew others.


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