People from across North Carolina concerned about the new maps proposed to be used to elect General Assembly members in 2018 had few supportive words on Tuesday for the lawmakers who had them drafted.
With votes on the maps scheduled for Friday in both the House and Senate, the legislative redistricting committee held public hearings on maps that were released over the weekend followed by supporting documents on Monday.
On Tuesday, legislators were posted in Raleigh, Beaufort Community College, Halifax Community College, Fayetteville and Guilford County at hearings that were live-streamed through technology in which the sound sometimes was disrupted.
Speaker after speaker described the maps as ones that will allow the elected officials to select their voters, instead of voters selecting their representatives in government.
“The right to vote is the most precious right we have,” said Eva Clayton, a former member of Congress and Democrat who was the first black woman to represent North Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives. “Redistricting is a way to deny that. This is no more than a sham. If the process is flawed, then the product is flawed.”
Many speakers were critical of the redistricting committee’s use of Tom Hofeller, a veteran mapmaker for the Republican Party, to draw the new maps after the ones he drafted in 2011 included districts ruled unconstitutional by the federal courts.
Most of the proposed districts lean Republican, similar to the current makeup of the General Assembly, where Republicans hold supermajorities in both the state House and Senate. Lawmakers drew new districts after courts ruled that the current maps, drawn in 2011, are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
Nine Senate districts were found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, along with 19 House districts.
Three federal judges who ruled the 2011 districts weakened the overall influence of black voters ordered new maps drawn, approved and delivered to the court by Sept. 1.
President Donald Trump would have won 33 of the 50 proposed Senate districts and 76 of the 120 proposed House districts. Statewide last year, Republican nominee Trump won 49.9 percent of the vote to 46.1 percent for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The numbers released Monday show that just 10 of the 50 Senate districts will likely be competitive next year – those are the only districts in which either Trump or Clinton would have won by single digits. Seven of the competitive districts lean Republican and the other three lean Democratic. On the other hand, a handful of districts would have seen presidential results as lopsided as a 70-30 split.
Just 19 of the 120 House districts are competitive by the same measure, including 12 that lean to Republicans and seven that lean to Democrats.
“We worked long hours trying to abide by the criteria,” state Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican who co-chairs the legislature’s joint redistricting committee, said on Saturday. “I in no way am saying they’re perfect. I hope my colleagues will engage so we can improve the maps further.”
The hearing on Tuesday lasted for almost five hours. Each person got three minutes to make their points, and many who signed up left before their names were called.
Several speakers were challengers who filed the lawsuit that forced the redrawing of the maps. In their comments, they offered a sampling of arguments their attorneys are likely to make to the federal judges if the maps are adopted without major changes this month.
They pointed out that though lawmakers said they would not consider race in the drawing of the new districts, their analyses show that black voters still will have difficulty electing their candidates of choice in most of the new districts. The mapmakers considered outcomes of elections while drawing maps and the changed lines continue to give the Republican Party an advantage and the potential for a continued supermajority.
“Because of your fetish for protecting elephants, you chose to use partisan election outcomes,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy NC, a voting rights organization.
“Substituting party for race ... is a cynical strategy that undermines democracy,” said T. Anthony Spearman, third vice president of the state NAACP.
Though the courts have allowed for partisan advantage to be considered in redistricting, a lawsuit filed in Wisconsin could test to what extent that continues. The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to take up the case later this year that could determine whether partisan advantage can be considered.
Republicans have argued that Democrats drew district lines to their advantage in the many decades they were in power in North Carolina.
“I find this argument to be petty and frankly ridiculous,” said Briana Brough, a Durham resident who supported an independent commission drawing maps.
Many at the hearing on Tuesday urged the lawmakers to change course and set up independent redistricting committees.
“It saddens me that North Carolina has become a national example of blatant gerrymandering,” said Sarah Ferguson, a speaker in Raleigh who described herself as “an independent citizen of North Carolina.”
“This process has to change. ... Y’all have to earn your re-elections,” she said.
Others contended lawmakers might have overstepped their authority and violated the state Constitution by redrawing some districts in the middle of the decade that were not touching the 28 districts ruled unconstitutional. Lawmakers across the country are tasked with tweaking district maps for state and federal elected offices every 10 years to reflect changes in the U.S. census.
The federal judges who ordered new maps noted in their court order that not all districts needed to be redrawn to fix the gerrymandered districts.
People can submit online comments on the General Assembly website.