The challengers who forced the redrawing of maps used to elect N.C. General Assembly members have drawn lines of their own that they hope legislators will consider before changing the districts.
In a letter sent Wednesday to legislative redistricting committees and attorneys representing the lawmakers, Anita Earls and Edwin Speas, lawyers for the challengers, contended that their analyses show the new district lines drawn by Republican mapmaker Tom Hofeller do not fix the old problem and create legal questions.
“First, it is plain that in several areas of both the House and Senate proposed maps, the constitutional violations are not cured and, indeed, the racially gerrymandering continues,” says the letter from Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and Speas, a Raleigh attorney.
Earls also argued that maps presented to the public over the weekend and the supporting data released Monday show that some districts were redrawn unnecessarily, raising questions about whether lawmakers have violated the state Constitution and redrawn districts in the middle of the decade when there was no court order forcing the changes to those districts. A panel of three federal judges ordered the maps redrawn by Sept. 1 to correct 28 districts found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, which requires changes to some but not all other districts.
Lawmakers in North Carolina and across the country have the responsibility to tweak district lines for state and congressional office every 10 years to reflect population shifts. Political parties have taken the task as an opportunity to shape districts for partisan advantage, and to date the courts have allowed that to happen.
Race, though, cannot be a driving factor for drawing district lines. The maps that Hofeller, the legislative leaders’ consultant, drew in 2011 relied too heavily on race, the courts have ruled. The judges found they created unconstitutional gerrymanders in 19 state House districts and nine Senate districts that weakened the overall influence of black voters.
At a public hearing on Tuesday that lasted more than five hours, many critics of the proposed maps said that though the redistricting commission’s criteria did not call for considering the race of voters in each district that lawmakers could still be accused of racial gerrymandering.
“You voted to ignore the race of voters in drawing new maps, as though that would protect you from being accused of drawing racially biased districts, but it’s clear that practice continues,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy NC, a voting rights organization. “Because of your fetish for protecting elephants, you voted to use partisan election outcomes to draw the new maps – and as a result, many districts are rigged to make them less competitive than they are now.”
In her letter, Earls raised questions about a new Senate district in Cumberland County that looks similar to the one found to be unconstitutional.
“Dr. Hofeller obviously does not need access to racial data to know that if he draws the district in approximately the same way the racially gerrymandered district was drawn, it would achieve the same effect – the illegal separation of black from white voters in Cumberland County and the packing of black voters into the district, thus limiting their political impact,” Earls said in her letter.
Earls raised questions about three House districts in Guilford County that she described as “centered right over their locations in the 2011 map.”
Julian Pridgen, one of the challengers, told lawmakers on Tuesday that he had concerns about the redrawing of a Mecklenburg County House district and several more in Wake County, districts that did not touch any of the unconstitutional gerrymanders.
“The maps put forth by our clients achieve several key objectives that are not found in the extremely partisan maps offered by legislative leaders,” Earls said in a statement. “It is entirely possible to draw remedial districts that fully comply with the North Carolina state constitution and do not create unconstitutional partisan or racial gerrymanders. We’ve offered one such alternative to legislators.”
Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County and co-chairman of the legislative redistricting committee, was still reviewing the maps presented by the challengers on Wednesday and wanted to reserve comment until he had fully analyzed them.
“I greatly appreciate that they have done this,” Lewis said. “We always welcome input from the public.”
Lewis said he thought the lengthy hearing on Tuesday was a “missed opportunity” for many.
Speaker after speaker criticized the maps and few offered suggested tweaks to the lines. Many were critical of the lawmakers’ use of the same mapmaker who drew the lines that led to the lawsuits and expenditure of millions of dollars defending them in court.
“I had hoped we would have garnered a little more specifics for how we can improve the maps,” Lewis said. “Instead we heard, start the whole process over.”
Votes are scheduled in the House and Senate on Friday.