N.C. court orders new state legislative maps to fix ‘extreme partisan gerrymandering’

Posted 9/13/19

RALEIGH — A three-judge panel from the state’s Court of Appeals ruled that North Carolina legislative districts, drawn by the Republican majority in 2017, violated the state’s Constitution …

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N.C. court orders new state legislative maps to fix ‘extreme partisan gerrymandering’

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RALEIGH — A three-judge panel from the state’s Court of Appeals ruled that North Carolina legislative districts, drawn by the Republican majority in 2017, violated the state’s Constitution requiring the legislature to redraw district maps.

The court’s 357-page decision, handed down September 4, determined that the maps violated three separate clauses in the state’s Constitution including the free elections clause, the equal protection clause and the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly clauses. The court decided that more than half of the state’s legislative districts were considered “extreme partisan gerrymanders” created to “benefit Republicans.”

“Partisan gerrymandering operates through vote dilution — the devaluation of one citizen’s vote as compared to others,” the decision read. “A mapmaker draws district lines to ‘pack’ and ‘crack’ voters likely to support the disfavored party. It is clear to the Court that extreme partisan gerrymandering — namely redistricting plans that entrench politicians in power, that evince a fundamental distrust of voters by serving the self-interest of political parties over the public good, and that dilute and devalue votes of some citizens compared to others — is contrary to the fundamental right of North Carolina citizens to have elections conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people.”

Neither of Chatham’s districts — House District 51 and Senate District 23 — were cited as districts to have been formed illegally, but could see changes as part of any redistricting efforts.

The court ordered lawmakers to proceed with developing new maps to be completed in the next two weeks to be used for the 2020 election. In designing the maps, lawmakers “may take reasonable efforts to not pair incumbents unduly in the same election district,” according to the decision. In addition, lawmakers are not allowed to use election data to create the maps.

“The Court likewise will prohibit any intentional attempt to favor voters or candidates of one political party,” the decision read.

The court also required the redistricting process to be held “in full public view” with “all map drawing to occur at public hearings, with any relevant computer screen visible to legislators and public observers.” If the legislature wishes to retain someone or a company to assist in process, that person or group must get prior approval from the court. The court will also appoint a “referee” to assist the court in reviewing the new maps and/or draw new maps if the legislature fails to act.

State Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) indicated that the legislature would not be appealing the ruling but instead would go to work in redrawing the maps. The N.C. General Assembly calendar indicates that both the Senate and House Standing Committees on Redistricting and Elections met on Monday and Tuesday and will likely meet throughout the week.

Rep. Robert Reives (D-Chatham), a member of the House Standing Committee on Redistricting and Elections, spoke at a press conference Monday with advocates from Common Cause, one of the organizations that filed the original suit against the legislative maps.

“At this point in time, you have neighborhoods being separated, homeowners’ associations being separated, students at the same university voting in separate districts — that can’t happen,” Reives said. “That’s the type of thing that makes people feel government’s broken. We’ve got a chance with this step, with this bill, to move that narrative forward, to change people’s opinions.

He added that it was time for politicians to be “bedevil(ed).”

“These politicians have to draw fair maps for us for 2020,” Reives said. “If they can’t win a fair fight, if they can’t win on an even playing field, then they deserve to lose their elections. Just like they lost this court case.”

After his statements, Reives told the News + Record that Monday was “a great start.”

“I hope that we can do everything we can to make this process transparent,” he said, “and most importantly a process that the general public believes in and trusts.”

Reporter Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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