GOP-drawn maps defended

But opponents say the new maps pack black voters into a few districts.

lbonner@newsobserver.comDecember 27, 2011 

State and Republican lawyers have prepared a detailed defense of the GOP-drawn plans for legislative and congressional districts, saying that those maps - not the alternatives drawn by challengers - comply with the state Constitution and federal laws.

The legal documents filed last week in state court give a preview of some of the points up for debate at a hearing tentatively scheduled for Jan. 12, when a three-judge panel will consider a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by registered Democrats and nonprofits including the state NAACP. The challengers are fighting to have the new voting maps overturned, arguing that they split an unprecedented number of voting precincts and divide voters into black and white districts.

The crux of the argument "has and always will be about these precincts," said Damon Circosta, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education. The Senate plan divides about 390 precincts, and the House plan divides about 250 precincts.

Lawyers with the state Attorney General's office who are defending the plans and private lawyers representing Republican lawmakers argue that the legislature is not obligated to follow precinct lines when drawing new districts. Democratic lawmakers and nonprofits proposed districts that would weaken African-Americans' voting power in violation of federal law, the state and GOP lawyers wrote.

The suit's outcome has important implications. The new plans would give legislative Republicans a chance to extend their majority and give Republicans the opportunity to win more congressional seats.

In defending the new maps, lawyers for the state and Republican lawmakers point to redistricting plans drawn by Democrats in previous years that divided precincts. The lawyers said there's nothing in the state Constitution that prohibits it.

The precinct lines that local boards of election establish don't follow any particular criteria, the maps' defenders wrote. Precincts don't have to be a particular size, and county boards don't have to keep similar communities together when creating them.

The precinct splits were required to comply with the federal law that prohibits weakening African-American voting power, they wrote.

At a hearing earlier this month, Adam Stein, a lawyer for the nonprofits, showed a graphic of Senate and House districts represented by African-Americans that had been redrawn to boost African-American voting age populations to 50 percent and higher. Stein said the map-drawers unnecessarily segregated voters, because black legislators had proven they did not need high concentrations of African-American voters in their districts to win elections.

The maps' opponents criticize them for packing black voters into a few districts. Half of the state's black voting age population is in 25 of 120 House districts, and 46 percent of the black voting age population is in 10 of 50 Senate districts.

The maps' defenders said the legislature has strong evidence that "racially polarized voting continues to be widespread in North Carolina including all of the areas in which the enacted plans created majority African-American districts."

The plans' defenders say the complaints about packing black voters are "frivolous" because alternative plans offered by critics aren't much different. The alternatives would place half of the state's black voting-age population into 29 House districts and 46 percent into 11 or 12 Senate districts. Differences in concentration levels are insignificant, they wrote.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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