North Carolina legislators finalize redistricting maps

Politics

Rep. Destin Hall of Lenoir, N.C. speaks during the House session on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021 in Raleigh, N.C. Hall defended the drawing of the new redistricting maps despite objections from House Democrats. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly completed redistricting maps Thursday for the next decade, carving boundaries that would likely give Republicans at least two more U.S. House seats and help the GOP retain its state legislative majorities.

The House and Senate voted along party lines for districts drawn on the basis of 2020 census figures. Each of the three maps — for the House, the Senate and the congressional delegation — had already passed one chamber by Wednesday.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto stamp can’t block redistricting plans, leaving Democrats and their allies with lawsuits as their remaining tool to fight them. In the 2010s, they successfully challenged GOP maps as illegal partisan and racial gerrymanders — problems they believe exist again now. One lawsuit already has been initiated.

“Is it going to come down to litigation being filed? Yes — and what the courts have to say about it,” said state Sen. Jay Chaudhuri of Wake County, the Democrats’ No. 2 leader. If the maps are upheld, they would get first use for the March 8 primary. Candidate filing begins Dec. 6.

The congressional boundaries contain a new 14th seat for North Carolina thanks to population growth. Analyses estimate that Republicans likely would win 10 of those seats, instead of eight they currently hold. North Carolina is otherwise a closely divided state politically — former President Donald Trump won the state in 2020 by just 74,500 votes, for example.

First-term Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning of Greensboro would face an uphill battle to return to Congress in 2023. Her current central North Carolina district would be fractured into boundaries for four seats, none of which would be Republican-leaning.

And a shifting district for veteran Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson, who represents northeastern North Carolina, would make the seat highly competitive — giving the GOP an 11-3 seat advantage in the right political environment. Butterfield, a former Congressional Black Caucus chair, has represented many majority-Black counties over the years.

“What we’re experiencing now is what I would call extreme, extreme gerrymandering,” Butterfield told The Associated Press in an interview this week. “Not only does it give Republicans a partisan advantage, it also disadvantages African American communities all across North Carolina. And so it’s unacceptable.”

Other reviews of legislative maps by the Princeton Gerrymander Project estimate Republicans winning roughly 70 of the House’s 120 seats and 30 of the 50 Senate seats. Republicans currently hold a 69-51 seat advantage in the House and 28-22 margin in the Senate.

Republicans said the process wasn’t overtly partisan, or that they worked to dilute minority voting. Redistricting committees barred the use in the state’s redistricting software of partisan data like election results and race-based data in evaluating results.

“I’m not considering political data, electoral data, in the drafting of these maps, so I have no idea what their outcome is going to be,” said Rep. Destin Hall, a Caldwell County Republican and House Redistricting Committee chairman. Mapmakers said they complied with other redistricting criteria such as minimizing the number of counties that are divided between districts and the municipalities that are split.

“I feel that we have complied with the law,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican and a redistricting committee co-chairman. Mapmaking in committee rooms were live-streamed for weeks.

But Democrats said it’s obvious Republicans drew maps to enrich their own partisan advantage, ignoring pleas from the public for a congressional plan that reflects the state’s 50-50 political environment. Black voters also are losing out in the process, one Democrat said.

“It appears that there’s an attack on the African American vote,” said Rep. Kandie Smith, a Pitt County Democrat. “People don’t want gerrymandering — that’s what we have. People don’t want packing — that’s what we’re doing.”

The state NAACP and others already sued in state court last week, challenging the Republican refusal to consider race-based data in drawing legislative districts. Other litigation is likely ahead.

Eric Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which has an arm that helped bankroll lawsuits that successfully challenged North Carolina congressional and legislative districts, criticized the finished maps. Republicans passed maps “heavily manipulated in favor of their party and that will deny real political power to the most populous and diverse areas of the state,” Holder said in a news release.

The maps reflect population growth in North Carolina — the nation’s ninth largest state with more than 10.4 million people — over the past decade in counties in and around Raleigh and Charlotte. More lawmakers will represent top urban areas. Meanwhile, many rural areas that saw overall population declines between 2010 and 2020 will have fewer legislators representing them.

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