Redistribution without race? Democrats in disbelief at GOP cards

Raleigh, North Carolina – Ten years ago, Republicans in North Carolina redesigned their legislative constituencies to help their party in a way that a federal court ruled unlawfully deprived black voters of their right to political representation. A state court later overturned the Republicans-drawn maps because they were based on pure partisanship.

So, as the GOP-controlled legislature embarks on its final round of redistribution this year, it has pledged not to use racial or partisan data to draw political lines. However, the cards proposed by the Republicans would lean heavily in favor of their party. Several Congressional maps released dilute Democratic votes by dividing the state’s largest city, Charlotte – also its largest African-American population center – into three or four United States House districts and giving the GOP at least a 10-4 advantage in a state Donald Trump narrowly won last year.

As the decennial redistribution process shifts into high gear, North Carolina is one of at least three states where Republicans say they draw maps without examining racial and partisan data. But these cards still strongly favor the GOP.

Democrats and civil rights groups are in disbelief, noting seasoned lawmakers don’t need a spreadsheet to find out where voters of different races and parties live in their state. Additionally, in some scenarios, the Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of constituencies where the majority of voters are racial or ethnic minorities.

“This is the first round of redistribution that I hear about,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is suing Republicans in Texas over maps the GOP said it drew without examining them. racial data. “I suspect they are trying to put up a defense in the event of a dispute. Because they know the racial data – they know where the black community lives. They know where the Latino community lives.

Jason Torchinsky, general counsel for the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said ignoring racial data was appropriate in certain circumstances, such as in the cases of North Carolina and Texas.

“It depends on where you are,” Torchinsky said.

Drawing legislative lines is often a brutal partisan struggle, as the party controlling the process can create constituencies to maximize the weight of its voters – and disperse opposing voters so widely that they cannot win a majority.

In 2019, the United States Supreme Court ruled that federal courts cannot overturn unfair cards on the basis of partisanship. But state courts can still overrule cards for being too partisan, and race remains a legal thread in the redistribution.

If cartographers explicitly attempt to weaken the power of voters on the basis of race, they may violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. But the voting rights law requires them to consider race if the state has “racially polarized” the vote, in which whites consistently vote against candidates supported by a minority racial or ethnic group. Cartographers must then create a district in which that minority includes a plurality or a majority of voters so that they can elect their preferred candidates.

Republicans are complaining that they cannot win.

“It really is a conundrum and has been for ten years for the GOP, because when we watch the race we were told that we should not have been, and these cards were canceled,” said the senator from the State of North Carolina, Paul Newton, who co-chairs that state’s redistribution committee. “Now that we’re not looking at race, the Democratic Party is telling us, ‘Oh, you should look at race. “”

North Carolina’s legal battle over redistribution is part of the reason why the new blind approach to race caught on.

The Republican-controlled legislature has complete control over the redistribution; its cards cannot be vetoed by its Democratic governor. In 2016, a federal court ruled that Republicans in North Carolina poorly crowded black voters in two congressional ridings to dilute African-American votes elsewhere. He ordered the map to be redrawn. This updated map served as the basis for the 2019 Supreme Court case.

But, just two months later, a North Carolina state court ruled that the GOP advantage in some of the state’s redesigned legislative maps still violated the state’s constitution. Based on that decision and others, the Republicans redesigned the cards at the end of 2019, this time saying they weren’t looking at racial or partisan data, and they got it right. legal review.

Then, in August, the legislature officially passed a rule that it would ignore race or partisanship in its final line art that would begin after the US Census Bureau released data on demographic changes over the course of the year. of the last decade. Lawmakers noted that in the epic litigation of the previous decade, a federal court found that the state did not have a polarized vote on race and did not need special attention to racial data.

Democrats and civil rights groups vigorously opposed it. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice wrote Republicans a letter warning them that they would deny black and Latino voters the right to vote. “They’re not listening,” said Allison Riggs, head of the group’s voting rights program.

Other GOP-controlled states have followed North Carolina’s lead. Over the past five decades, Texas has been found to violate federal law or the US Constitution by redistributing it, including harming black and Latino voters. This time, Republicans who control the state legislature said they would ignore racial data and their lawyers said it was OK.

“I said it, and I’ll say it again – we drew these maps blind,” said Texas State Senator Joan Huffman, a Republican who drew the maps of that state, at the meeting. ‘a hearing in the Senate.

While nearly all of Texas’ population growth has come from Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans, the maps do not create new predominantly black or Latino neighborhoods. This latest omission is at the heart of lawsuits brought by Latin American civil rights groups last week as Texas approved its cards.

“The only time communities of color can get justice is at the courthouse,” said Democratic state representative Rafael Anchia, chairman of the US-Mexico legislative caucus.

Ohio Republicans are also embroiled in disputes over their state legislative plan, which they say was crafted without racial or partisan data. “It is illegal to use breed in drawing districts. It’s a violation of federal law, ”Republican State Senate Speaker Matt Huffman told reporters last month.

Ohio Republicans said even though they didn’t use partisan data, they had been the target of a lawsuit by several community and anti-gerrymandering groups for drawing a partisan map anyway.

“The way the card works is to really skew the partisan results in Ohio,” said Freda Levenson, chief legal officer for the Ohio ACLU, one of the plaintiffs. “It is very likely that they used partisan data.”


Anderson is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.

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