RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As a legal battle looms, some Democratic members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation said they’d support delaying next year’s primary after Republicans in the state General Assembly approved new district maps this week that would give them an advantage.
The GOP approved the new maps for the state House and Senate as well as the state’s 14 Congressional districts as Democrats accused them of gerrymandering to stay in power in Raleigh and gain seats in Washington.
“We’ve got to get a fair map, whatever the cost might be,” said Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, who would be moved to the new 2nd Congressional district, likely to be the most competitive in the state. “If the elections get delayed, then that is just the price that we’ll have to pay to get a fair map.”
Nonpartisan groups filed a lawsuit last week before the maps were even approved, focusing on the process Republicans had undertaken to draw them. That lawsuit calls on the primary election in the state House and Senate races to be delayed until at least May 3 and for the maps for the General Assembly to be redrawn. Additional litigation is expected.
Lawmakers have reiterated they did not consult partisan or racial demographic data in drawing the maps.
However, independent experts who’ve analyzed the Congressional map found it favors Republicans winning 10 seats, Democrats winning three and one seat being a toss-up.
The state currently has 13 Congressional seats, of which eight are held by Republicans and five by Democrats.
“We didn’t look at election data. We didn’t look at racial data in this map. All we considered were the traditional criteria of keeping counties whole, keeping cities whole,” said state Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), who led the redistricting effort in the state House of Representatives. “These maps were drawn in full public view with full audio where any member of the public could tune in and watch it at any time.”
Under the current timeline, candidates can begin filing to run for office on Dec. 6. The primary is scheduled for March 8, 2022.
“The date of our primary can be very flexible. It is unusual for us to have the primary in March to begin with,” said U.S. Rep Deborah Ross, who would be in the new 5th Congressional district, which is contained entirely within Wake County and favors Democrats. “The courts have the flexibility to move the primary, to move the filing date and get the maps right.”
Ross criticized the move Republicans made to split largely Democratic Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford counties each into three different Congressional districts.
“Guilford County is very up in arms about this and it’s done pretty much to get rid of a Democratic seat,” Ross said.
Rep. Hall pointed out the Republican-backed map splits only two municipalities in the state: Charlotte and Greensboro. The Queen City is too large to be contained entirely in one district.
“Somewhere has to be split at the end of the day. What I’m confident of is that we’ve got a map in the maps that were passed (state House, state Senate and the Congressional map), three maps that follow that traditional redistricting criteria,” Hall said.
Butterfield said he expects action by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is led by former U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, who served in the Obama administration. Butterfield said Holder “has the best interest of Democrats in mind.”
Under the new Congressional map, Butterfield would no longer represent most of Pitt County. Instead, his district would be comprised of several counties along the Virginia state line and stretching down to Wayne County.
This week the National Republican Congressional Committee added Butterfield to its list of targets in the 2022 election.
“I knew right away that this was a deliberate effort on the part of legislative Republicans to reduce the number of Democrats in my district, to reduce the number of African-Americans in my district,” he said. “You cannot have a Congressional map that disenfranchises Democratic voters. You just cannot have that in 2022.”
It’s unclear how quickly courts will consider the legal challenges to the maps. After Republicans drew the maps 10 years ago, they faced various lawsuits, which ultimately resulted in maps being deemed unconstitutional for racial and partisan gerrymandering. Those cases played out over the course of most of the last decade.