Carl Hintz | Correspondent
On August 22, the North Carolina General Assembly held a public hearing on proposed electoral districts to replace the previous districts that were found by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered.
The hearing was held at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh in conjunction with hearings at six different community colleges across the state. More than 200 people attended the hearing in Raleigh. About 140 people sat in a room on the 5th floor which was plagued by technical difficulties.
“For a meeting to be this important and the accommodations are poor to say the least,” said Braxton Foushee, who is from Carrboro, North Carolina. “We don’t hear half the stuff that some people are saying.”
In May 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered districts were unconstitutional. Courts have previously upheld the legality of partisan gerrymandering, and that race can be used as a criteria to ensure that minority groups are able to elected. However, districts drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2011, using the 2010 U.S. census data, illegally diluted the power of black voters in North Carolina.
After pressure from the public and federal courts, the NCGA proceeded to design new districts. The house and senate redistricting committees argued that by using partisan election data, but not racial data, they were following the court ruling. The criteria considered included incumbency protection, election data, equal population based on the 2010 census, contiguity, county groupings, compactness, minimization of split precincts and municipal boundaries.
The NCGA paid $50,000 to Dr. Tom Hofeller, the same map maker who designed the unconstitutional maps, to design the new districts. As of November 2016, the state of North Carolina spent $3.7 million to defend the racially gerrymandered districts.
“It is disheartening that we have to spend taxpayer’s money for the same guys who drew the illegal districts, are now drawing these maps,” Foushee said. “I expect the results to be the same.”
According to the News & Observer, the partisan lean of the proposed districts mean that Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat who won with 49 percent of the popular vote in the statewide election last year, would have won in only 18 of the 50 Senate districts and 47 of the 120 House districts.
In November 2016, a federal court demanded that maps be drawn by March 2017 and elections with the corrected districts be held in November, but the Supreme Court favored redistricting in time for the 2018 midterm elections. The federal court ordered a September 1, 2017 deadline due to the perceived reluctance of the legislature to draw new maps.
After pressure from federal courts and the public, the NCGA proceeded to design new districts. The proposed house map was released on August 19, the proposed senate map on August 20 and the partisan information about the districts on August 21.
“It’s been ridiculously hasty when they’ve had ample time, months to share much more information with the public,” said Holly Russell, an attendee from Chapel Hill. “The legislature has become deeply nondemocratic.”
Nancy Shoemaker, from Raleigh, said, “I think it’s disrespectful to the people to pretend you’re having a hearing when there’s really not that much we can do between now and September 1st.”
House Bill 200, which is equivalent to Senate Bill 209 and is currently in Select Committee on Elections, is a bipartisan bill that is intended to create a nonpartisan redistricting process. This bill appears to have broad base support but is still in committee.