Chief architect of state legislative and congressional maps testifies

ablythe@newsobserver.comJune 5, 2013 

— Tom Hofeller, the chief architect of North Carolina’s 2011 legislative and congressional voting districts, has been described as a political mapmaker who “designs wombs for his team and tombs for the other guys.”

The national redistricting expert, featured in The Atlantic magazine’s article nine months ago titled “The League of Dangerous Mapmakers,” was in Raleigh on Wednesday to testify about the districts he drew for North Carolina.

Three Superior Court judges heard nearly 10 hours of testimony over Tuesday and Wednesday about narrowly tailored race-related concerns raised in a lawsuit brought by Democrats and civil rights organizations that challenged the redrawn districts.

Every 10 years after U.S. census workers get new population numbers, lawmakers look at demographic shifts and the political districts that encompass them.

Population swells in some districts can force the creation of new ones or redesigned ones, and political parties in power use the opportunity to shore up best-chance scenarios for themselves at the polls for the decade to come.

The courts have said that political considerations in redistricting are lawful.

But race cannot be the predominant factor in the formation of new districts. That, the courts say, is illegal gerrymandering. That’s what Democrats and civil rights organizations behind the lawsuit say happened in North Carolina two years ago.

Among the districts discussed at the two-day hearing this week were the 4th Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Chapel Hill, has been successful for nearly a quarter century, and the 12th District, where U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County, has held office for nearly 20 years.

Hofeller testified he received instructions from Republican redistricting leaders at the General Assembly to draw the 4th and 12th congressional districts to increase their percentages of Democratic voters, not to increase black voters.

“There were political goals, but the whole plan was a political plan,” Hofeller testified. “The goals for the 12th District were to draw it in such a matter to increase Republican opportunities in the surrounding districts.”

Hofeller echoed that tenet as he talked about the state Senate districts in Forsyth County and House districts in Lee and Harnett counties.

The three judges selected to hear the redistricting concerns wrapped up Wednesday without giving a date for when they’ll rule on the issues before them.

Republican leaders have asked for the lawsuits to be dismissed, saying the claims of racial gerrymandering are false.

No matter how the Superior Court judges rule, most involved with the case expect an appeal.

The 2011 maps helped Republicans add to their majorities in the state House and Senate in the 2012 elections. They also helped Republicans win nine of North Carolina’s 13 U.S. House seats, compared with the six held before the redistricting.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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