Raleigh – After much debate, public scrutiny, and controversy, the General Assembly passed redistricting maps for the N.C. House and Senate, and U.S. Congress.
The Senate on Thursday, Nov. 4, voted 25-21 for the House map. The House voted 65-49 to approve the map for the Senate, and also 65-49 for the congressional map, which includes a new 14th Congressional District in the western part of the state. Fifteen counties from Cherokee to Watauga are included in the district.
“I am confident that the House and Senate have approved redistricting plans that include maps that are constitutional in every respect,” House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said about the passage of the Senate and congressional maps.
Criteria for drawing the maps included considering equal population — the number of people in each legislative district within plus- or minus-5% of the ideal district population. Legislators also weighed contiguity, county groupings as required by previous court cases, only splitting voting districts, when necessary, the compactness of districts, municipal boundaries, and the use of member residence. As a result, they tried to keep counties whole and have minimal splits of municipalities.
Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate touted transparency, as meeting rooms where the maps were drawn were open to the public for a few weeks and could be viewed live on YouTube. Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, said the process was historic and unprecedented. Public hearings were held across the state.
Amendments to the Map
Hall said lawmakers agreed to an amendment of the congressional map that kept the “fingerling” or northeast counties together but, overall, 11 counties across the state were split, along with 24 voter tabulation districts. Two municipal boundaries — Charlotte and Greensboro — were split due to population.
Hall said he was disappointed by the lack of participation by Democrats in drawing congressional maps in the committee room. Rep. Robert Reives, D- Chatham, introduced an amendment that would have kept Guilford County together. Reives said the amendment was introduced in the Senate a few weeks ago and has been on display for public view.
Hall said he only saw that amendment a few minutes before the session.
“I notice it would split the finger counties in the northeast,” Hall said. “It splits more municipalities and will split more counties. This map doesn’t comply with criteria the base map has.”
The amendment was voted down, 67 -47.
“I think a reasonable argument can be made in Greensboro and Guilford County that the African American population feels targeted with surgical precision,” said Rep. Amos L. Quick III, D-Guilford.
“I am taken aback that the Democrats wished that they had more involvement in this process,” said Hall. “There was no input. We have no alternate congressional map from Democrats. If you have a process that doesn’t consider election data, it’s done out in the open with audio and video, you consider keeping cities and counties whole, and if you still don’t like the outcome, perhaps the problem is not the process, perhaps the problem is your ideas.”
Race and Districting
The subject of race came up many times throughout the process. Those opposed, including Democrats and various groups, said the maps dilute minority voting by splitting up districts in certain areas, claiming the new districts combine areas with nothing in common. The maps split up several urban areas or well-established areas such as the Triad, the Triangle, and Wilmington, and include them with more rural areas, thus, splitting voters of race and ethnicity and of the Democrat Party.
Is this the final say on the maps until 2030? Probably not.
In a motion filed Friday, Oct. 29, the Southern Coalition for Justice told the court it’s leading a lawsuit for the state chapter of the NAACP and Common Cause, NAACP v. Berger. The lawsuit names as defendants Senate Leader Phil Berger, R- Rockingham, and Moore in their official capacities as legislative leaders, along with chairs of the House and Senate Redistricting and Elections Committees, as well as members of the N.C. State Board of Elections.
Theresa Opeka is a writer with the Carolina Journal.