North Carolina political maps are being tested. Here are 5 takeaways from the testimony so far | News
RALEIGH, NC – North Carolina’s new political districts are so skewed towards Republicans they’re almost off the charts, several expert witnesses said at this week’s trial in a high-profile gerrymandering trial.
The Republican-led legislature drew the cards late last year and now defends them in court. On the other side, there are Liberal challengers who want the cards to be rejected and declared unconstitutional due to partisan gerrymandering.
A Carnegie Mellon University math professor working for the challengers, Wesley Pegden, used a computer algorithm to draw a massive set of possible political constituencies for North Carolina. He said the Legislative Assembly congressional map is more biased in favor of Republicans than 99.99% of the billions of maps he created.
“The card adopted is an extreme outlier,” he said.
Pegden was one of a half-dozen math and political science professors who all came to similar conclusions for the challengers, about the Congress card as well as the State Legislature card, all using different ways to test them. They spent Monday and Tuesday explaining their work to the judges hearing the case.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, lawyers and legislative experts pleaded their own case to defend the cards. They did not argue that it is incorrect to say that the cards are skewed to the right. Instead, they said it made sense, as Democrats tend to live in cities while Republicans tend to be more dispersed in rural areas, which they say gives Republicans an advantage. integrated geographic.
More importantly, however, the Legislative Assembly’s case rests on the legal argument that there is nothing unconstitutional about partisan gerrymandering.
“North Carolina gives the legislature a lot of leeway, compared to other states,” said Andy Taylor, a political scientist from North Carolina State University who testified on behalf of the assembly. legislative.
The trial will end Thursday morning with pleadings from both parties. In the meantime, here are five key takeaways from the first three days of the trial:
1. The top 0.01%?
Pegden’s conclusion that the Legislative Assembly Congress map was a 99.99% partisan outlier among the billions of maps created by his algorithm has been echoed by similar testimony from other math and science experts. policies of North Carolina and the country.
All said their findings – that the maps drawn by the Legislature are skewed far to the right of what their research has shown would be reasonable – should strengthen the argument for the judges to order new maps to be drawn.
Republicans criticized the work of some of these experts during cross-examination, insinuating they had handpicked data to make the Legislative Assembly map look more outlier than it is. in reality.
For example, Duke University math professor Jonathan Mattingly drew 100,000 different versions of maps and reviewed many hypothetical election results. His report showed that in several scenarios, the Legislature’s cards were more skewed to the right than 90-100% of its cards.
But there have also been a handful of hypothetical elections in which up to 35% to 45% of Mattingly’s cards were more Republican than what the legislature drew. Lawmakers cited this as proof that their cards should not be considered an outlier.
Finally, testifying for the GOP, Taylor also said there is no one-size-fits-all definition of how to measure partisan gerrymandering – not even very technical models like those offered by the challengers.
“They don’t necessarily reveal, ‘Tada, he’s a partisan gerrymander,'” he said.
2. Race could be a consideration
Racial gerrymandering has been considered unconstitutional since the 1980s, but this lawsuit concerns partisan gerrymandering. It is still a relatively unanswered question of whether it is acceptable to draw cards to diminish the voting power of a political party, rather than a racial group.
What complicates this issue in North Carolina, however, is the fact that the Democratic Party is more black than white, and the vast majority of black voters support the Democratic candidates.
James Leloudis, professor of history at UNC, testified for the challengers that for generations white conservatives have worked to decrease black voting power in North Carolina – whether through Jim Crow laws or, more recently, through redistribution and other changes in electoral laws.
“This is a serious and fundamental question about how democracy works,” he said.
Leloudis made similar arguments in a recent voter identification lawsuit, which Republican lawmakers passed in 2018, after their previous attempt at a voter identification law in 2013 was declared unconstitutional for racial discrimination.
In the current round of redistribution, Democrats have opposed Republicans’ decision not to use racial data when crafting maps – which ultimately led to fewer minority majority seats. WRAL previously reported that the new cards would put a significant number of black lawmakers at risk of losing their elections in 2022.
But Michael Barber, a political science professor at Brigham Young University, an expert on the legislature, said the models he presented for the North Carolina election show that black politicians do not need seats in minority majority to win – confirming the Legislature’s contention that this was not the case. need to deliberately draw these districts.
Black candidates can and have won in majority white districts, Barber said.
3. The qualified majority of the GOP, a key objective
The cards would likely create a 10-4 Republican advantage in the seats in the US House of Representatives in North Carolina in a hypothetical 50-50 election. But that’s not the only concern of Democrats.
They’re also looking at the state legislature, where scans show the new cards would likely give Republicans a majority in the legislature even if Democrats win a majority of the statewide vote, and Republicans would also have good votes. chances of winning a veto. proof by qualified majority.
A qualified majority would allow GOP lawmakers to override Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s vetoes without needing to involve Democratic lawmakers.
Duke University math professor Jonathan Mattingly said his models showed that even in a Democratic-friendly election, when they could expect a tie in the North Carolina Senate, the card drawn by the Legislature could give Republicans a qualified majority.
Likewise, even one of the Legislative Assembly’s expert witnesses, Barber, said the Senate card is skewed to create a qualified majority. He said during cross-examination that his own models show that Republicans should expect to win 27 of the 50 state Senate seats, but that the maps they drew are more likely to give them 30 seats.
Barber, however, said there was no way to predict the Republicans would always overturn Cooper’s vetoes, even if they could.
“We cannot say for sure how the legislature is going to vote,” he said.
Republicans previously had a qualified majority – under cards that were later ruled unconstitutional – for most of the past decade, including the first two years of Cooper’s tenure as governor, 2017 and 2018. Over the course of most of the past decade. of this period, it issued 28 veto, according to state records, 23 which the legislature overruled.
4. A vague state constitution
Since the trial takes place in a state court, it focuses on the constitution of the state. It worked for the liberal challengers in 2019, who managed to force the legislature to redraw the cards for the 2020 election. They are making the same arguments this time around.
But despite this recent decision, the legal question is still relatively open. The Republicans never appealed their 2019 loss, so there is no precedent for appeal one way or the other. And now they argue that the judges in 2019 got it wrong.
Taylor said about 20 states have constitutions that explicitly prohibit partisan gerrymandering, but “North Carolina doesn’t have anything like this at all.”
But neither does the constitution specifically allow it. Instead, the part in question is a single, short sentence that can be interpreted broadly.
“All elections will be free,” the entire Article I, Section 10 of the North Carolina Constitution reads.
5. Judges policy
All constitutional questions in North Carolina are dealt with at trial by a panel of three superior court judges. In 2019, the panel that ruled against the legislature had a Democratic majority. This time around, the new panel has a Republican majority.
They are Republican Justices Graham Shirley of Wake County and Nathaniel Poovey of Cabarrus County, and Democratic Judge Dawn Layton of Anson County.
If the case is appealed, politics could remain a consideration. The North Carolina Court of Appeals has a Republican majority, but the state Supreme Court has a 4-3 Democratic majority.
On the Supreme Court, one of the Republican justices, Phil Berger Jr., is the son of the Leader of the Senate who is one of the main defendants in the case. One of the Democratic judges, Anita Earls, is the founder and former executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is helping run the trial.
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