RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A Republican-controlled state Senate committee approved a map of new congressional districts for North Carolina Monday as Democrats accused them of “extreme” gerrymandering.
The proposed map carves up the state’s counties into 14 congressional districts, as North Carolina gains a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives due to population growth.
Democrats questioned Republicans about splitting up heavily Democratic Wake, Mecklenburg, and Guilford counties each into three different congressional districts, saying the move was meant to give Republicans an advantage in next year’s election.
“You’ve got something else at work here rather than the comments that you’ve made about who wanted districts in a certain way,” said state Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake). “This kind of radical extreme effort simply takes us out of this process.”
Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), one of the Senate’s leaders who’s been overseeing the redistricting process, defended the decisions Republicans made.
“I will say that we have not looked at any partisan data in drawing this map, nor have we looked at racial data,” Hise said. “To draw congressional maps in North Carolina and only split two municipalities in the state has been a tremendous feat that we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Nonpartisan analysts, including the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, have been looking closely at the proposed maps as they’ve been unveiled in the last couple of weeks to see how much of an advantage they give to one party over the other.
Princeton gave an F grade to the congressional map moving forward in North Carolina for fairness. Their analysis shows Republicans likely would win 10 of the state’s 14 congressional seats. Democrats proposed alternative maps that would be more likely to produce a 7-7 split, which received A grades from Princeton.
The proposed map would put some current members of Congress into the same districts.
Rep. Dan Bishop (R) would be in the same district as Rep. Alma Adams (D), which is a district in Mecklenburg County that would favor Democrats. Members of Congress don’t have to live in the districts they represent, so Bishop could potentially run in a proposed district nearby that would be more likely to elect a Republican.
CBS 17 reached out to his office for comment.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R) would be in the same district as Rep. Kathy Manning (D), which is a district that would favor Republicans. It’s not clear where else Manning, who represents parts of the Triad, would run.
Manning released a statement Monday blasting the proposed map.
“These congressional maps represent an extreme partisan gerrymander that splits communities of interest, disregards the redistricting criteria set forth by the Committee, and shows a callous disinterest for the representation that North Carolinians requested during the public comment periods leading up to the vote. These maps were created for one purpose only: to ensure Republicans win more House seats so that they can recapture control of the U.S. House of Representatives. They are not a reflection of the best interests of North Carolinians but rather, an offering to the national Republican party.”Rep. Kathy Manning (D)
Because Republicans control the General Assembly, they control the redistricting process. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper does not have authority to veto the congressional maps or maps for the state House and Senate.
On Friday, civil rights groups took the unusual step of filing a lawsuit against Republicans in the legislature regarding the proposed General Assembly maps before they’ve even voted whether to approve them.
“It is a bit of a pre-emptive strike,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit, which was filed in Wake County Superior Court.
They want state lawmakers to start the process over again, saying they need to consider racial demographic data of voters to ensure the maps are compliant with the Voting Rights Act.
They’ve also asked for the court to delay the primary election in those races from March to at least May 3.
“Basically, it’s to say this is going to be an unfair process and the outcomes will likely be bad maps because the process itself is violating state law,” Phillips said. “You can use race, as the VRA requires, to make sure that Black voters’ strength, their voting strength, is not diluted. If you don’t do that, you’re discriminating.”
On Monday a House committee was scheduled to discuss that chamber’s new map ahead of votes later in the week.
In the previous decade, courts threw out maps Republicans drew due to racial and partisan gerrymandering. This time, Republicans have said they did not include racial or partisan data as they drew the maps.
“Last time they said it’s because we used race. This time they say it’s because we don’t use race. Quite frankly, we’re all prepared for any lawsuits that are coming to try to achieve their partisan advantage or get built into the maps,” Hise said.
Republicans aim to hold votes and approve the new district maps by the end of this week.