North Carolina lawmakers may ignore race when drawing political maps

Republican lawmakers this week proposed rules that would prevent them from using racial demographics and election data to draw political maps that will be used for the next decade of elections in North Carolina.

This proposal is one of the first of many steps in the map-drawing process, also known as redistribution, which can begin in state legislatures across the country when the US Census Bureau releases a new batch of data on Thursday. decennial demographic.

States typically redraw their maps after the census releases this data once every 10 years. However, the process hasn’t worked that way in North Carolina in recent years, as the state has been embroiled in court battles over the past decade over which districts Republican lawmakers drew in 2011.

As a result, courts have ordered lawmakers to redraw the cards with specific criteria on several occasions after finding that state lawmakers designed districts to deny minority and Democratic voters the right to vote. One such gerrymandering case went to the United States Supreme Court, where a majority of justices set a historic precedent in ruling that federal courts were not the place to correct allegations of creating unfair partisan cards. . The judges sent the case back to state court, forcing lawmakers to redraw the lines for the 2020 election cycle.

This year’s redistribution process and the release of new data gives North Carolina’s Republican-majority General Assembly a fresh start.

The Joint Legislature Redistribution Committee on Monday proposed rules that, if passed, will serve as benchmarks throughout the map-drawing process. They also indicate what factors the Republican-led state legislature will and will not prioritize when drawing new districts.

Since the rules, known as the redistribution criteria, were released on Monday, Democrats and voting rights advocates have criticized them this week, saying eliminating the use of such racial data in particular will make difficult for the state to comply with the law on voting rights.

“How do you comply with VRA if you ignore racial data?” Democratic Senator Ben Clark, a Democrat from Raeford, said in an interview with The News & Observer on Wednesday. ” You can not. The VRA aims to provide fair treatment to racial minorities. You can’t do this if you’re not using racial data.

Clark also said many lawmakers know the racial or political makeup of districts without looking at the data. The current criteria, Clark said, do not preclude the own knowledge of lawmakers in their districts from being informally considered when developing these maps.

Public comments on the proposed redistribution rules

Since Republicans proposed the new redistribution criteria on Monday, members of the public have pointed to many other changes that should be made before the proposal passes.

The committee held a hearing on Tuesday to give the public an opportunity to comment on the proposed rules, where most who spoke criticized the 10-point list.

“These redistricting criteria are unfortunately so vague that I fear they actually constrain the design of the map in any significant way,” said Lekha Shupeck, North Carolina state director of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee led by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. former United States Attorney General. Eric Holder.

Republicans have argued, however, that the proposed criteria are the same as those proposed in 2019, when the court again ordered the legislature to redraw some districts. Democrats and Republicans said that year that it was the most transparent redistribution process, although Democrats said this year that the process could still be improved.

However, this year’s criteria are not exactly the same as in 2019. One rule, known as “cardholder protection,” demonstrates such a difference.

In 2019, the criteria stated that “cartographers can make reasonable efforts not to unduly match incumbents in the same electoral district”.

The wording proposed this year, on the other hand, indicates that “the residency of members may be taken into account in the formation of legislative districts and of Congress.”

Draw district maps that take into account the place of residence of legislators

Members of the public and voting rights advocates also criticized the directive which would mean lawmakers could view where current lawmakers reside as a factor in how they design districts. If passed, that means Republicans will try not to draw a district that has two incumbents, also known as “incumbent protection.”

The lawmakers also included several required criteria in the proposal, including grouping together counties and ensuring that each district is connected to other parts of the district and equal or nearly equal to the population of other districts.

But Clark and other Democrats criticized Republicans for not prioritizing those criteria in the proposal.

Each of the criteria must be ranked, so if there are two conflicting rules, “you default to leveling up,” Clark said.

After the committee considers the amendments on Thursday morning, it will vote to formalize the redistribution criteria, but they are not legally binding. Like any legislative rule, the committee could in theory change them at any time.

Tyler Dukes contributed to this report.

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Lucille Sherman is a state political reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. Previously, she worked as a National Data and Investigations reporter for Gannett. Using the secure and encrypted Signal application, you can reach Lucille at 405-471-7979.

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