Throughout a legislative redistricting committee meeting on Friday, people pleading for legislators to take the partisanship out of map drawing questioned whether new district lines had been drawn to meet a court order but not yet revealed to the public.
“There is a rumor that red maps have been drawn already,” said Janis Ramquist, a Raleigh resident who told lawmakers she had known some of them for four decades and was saddened “that so many people distrust you and believe the worst in you.”
Ramquist was one of the 31 people who signed up to speak at a two-hour redistricting committee meeting that included members of the state House and Senate.
“I know legislators are well-meaning people that are often unfairly judged,” Ramquist said. “I propose that in the next month this committee can change that.”
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Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Democrat from Durham, sought an answer to the rumors and skepticism about whether Republicans already had maps drawn with districts favoring their party.
“Can you assure this body right now that no redistricting maps have been drawn?” Michaux asked Rep. David Lewis, the Harnett County Republican who is the chairman of the state House Select Committee on Redistricting.
“I can assure you that no maps have been drawn at my direction,” Lewis said, adding that he had not drawn any maps. “Nor am I aware of any other entity operating in conjunction with the leadership that has drawn maps.”
A panel of federal judges has ordered new General Assembly districts drawn by Sept. 1 to correct 28 districts that the court found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. In 2011, when the maps were drawn that created the problematic districts, black voters were packed into nine state Senate districts and 19 state House districts, weakening their overall influence in elections.
Black voters typically vote Democratic and the maps were drawn under Republican leadership, which gained majorities in both General Assembly chambers after the 2010 elections.
Some of the speakers at the Friday hearing urged the lawmakers to move beyond a redistricting process that both major parties had used over the years to gain partisan advantage.
Some called for an independent redistricting commission.
Others called for lines that are “compact and contiguous,” instead of districts that stretch across numerous counties in forms that have been described in court documents as resembling Rorschach test inkblots or multi-legged sea creatures.
“They should make sense,” said Beth Gerall of Hillsborough.
David Williams, a Transylvania County resident, says he decided to get involved with issues such as redistricting after the election last year of President Donald Trump.
“I think this is the most important and fundamental issue that we as a state face right now,” Williams said after urging the lawmakers to draw maps that do not incorporate addresses of current lawmakers, party registration numbers or voting history – data that can lead to partisan gerrymandering. “The hostility, the anger and the hate right now, I contribute it directly to gerrymandering.”
Several complained that Thomas Hofeller, a veteran mapmaker for Republicans across the country who had led the drawing of the 2011 maps, was back at the drawing board.
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, told legislators it was not their job to make the districts more competitive for Democrats, whose party’s strength is concentrated in the more populated urban areas. In the 2016 election, Woodhouse said, Trump won in 76 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
“The minority party in this body has a geographic problem they have to correct,” Woodhouse said.
James Wood, a 19-year-old Raleigh resident, shook his finger at the legislators as he criticized their protracted effort in the courts, and the millions of dollars spent on legal fees, fighting maps that did not pass constitutional muster. As his voice rose, Wood told the lawmakers that he thought with a piece of paper and a pencil that he could “draw districts pretty fairly.”
“We are done with your pettiness and in the not so distant future when we are up there running the show, things are going to be different,” Wood said.
Lewis said after the meeting that he expected the joint legislative committee to adopt criteria for correcting the districts at its next meeting on Aug. 18. There could be maps for the public to see a couple of days before the Aug. 25 or 26 General Assembly session in which a vote is scheduled.