Under the Dome

It’s back to court for proposed new NC redistricting maps

From the proposed 2017 state House map.
From the proposed 2017 state House map. NC General Assembly

New maps for electing members of the North Carolina House and Senate are ready for review by the judges who struck down the current maps.

The General Assembly approved the maps Wednesday.

Politicians from all corners of the state took advantage of their last chance to weigh in on the maps before final House and Senate votes, with Democrats taking up most of the speaking time to lodge a few final complaints to no avail.

Rep. Deb Butler, a Democrat from Wilmington, acknowledged the Little League World Series team from Greenville who had spent the morning being applauded by legislators in between redistricting debates. She said the new maps are so unfair to Democrats that it would be as if the baseball team had to start every game down 6-0 and forced to bat with their non-dominant hands. She asked her Republican colleagues, who mostly supported the new maps, to reconsider their support.

“The public, like those boys, expect nothing less than a level playing field,” Butler said.

But in the end the maps passed both the House and Senate.

Next stop: The judicial branch.

Instead of the typical process, in which the governor would have the chance to sign the proposal into law or veto it, the maps will skip over the governor’s desk and go straight to court. A panel of judges will review them; if they don’t approve of what they see, the judges themselves could create new maps for the state.

The votes in both chambers were mostly along party lines, although at least one Republican in the House voted no. Jonathan Jordan, from Ashe County, said he supports nonpartisan redistricting and also didn’t like how the Senate in particular treated his constituents in northwestern North Carolina.

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Several Democrats also took the opportunity to argue for an end to redistricting that’s led by whatever party has a majority in the legislature.

“In short, politicians who directly benefit from the drafting of legislative districts should not be the drafters of those districts,” said Rep. Joe John, a Wake County Democrat and former judge. “We must have in North Carolina a truly independent, nonpartisan and impartial redistricting commission.”

But his Wake County colleague, Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar, blasted Democrats for saying that just because North Carolina is a swing state, the General Assembly should also be divvied roughly equally.

“What do you want?” Dollar asked rhetorically. “Do you want proportional representation? Then you need to change the U.S. Constitution.”

Democrats and government watchdog groups have said these new maps are unfair gerrymanders that give an undue amount of power to Republicans in North Carolina, one of the country’s closest swing states.

“The people of North Carolina are looking to us to learn how to share power,” said Democratic Rep. Carla Cunningham of Charlotte.

If the new maps pass, about two-thirds of the districts in both the House and the Senate will lean Republican, according to results from the 2016 elections for president and governor. That’s despite the fact that Republican candidates Donald Trump and Pat McCrory both received less than half of the popular vote statewide in 2016.

Raleigh resident Tony Quartararo speaks out against proposed NC House and Senate maps at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh on Aug. 22, 2017.

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The new maps, which have been public for a little over a week now, receiving only minor tweaks since then, must be sent to the judges no later than Friday.

Last year the judges ruled the state’s current legislative districts unconstitutional, finding that 28 districts were drawn in a way to reduce black voters’ overall influence.

The districts found to be unconstitutional were drawn by GOP lawmakers in 2011.

The new lines are also being drawn by GOP lawmakers, who have re-hired the same mapmaker who drew the 2011 lines.