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The Daily Tar Heel

Assembly May Lose Districting Control

A legislative committee redraws the state and congressional districts every 10 years, after the results of the U.S. Census are announced.

But two state legislators proposed bills Tuesday to restructure the system to give responsibility to an independent commission. Rep. Arthur Pope, R-Wake, and Sen. Hamilton Horton, R-Forsyth, proposed identical constitutional amendments in their respective houses to give a nine-member resident panel control over redistricting by 2002.

In addition to these bills, Pope also is proposing a statutory bill that could take effect this year if there are lawsuits brought against the state during the redistricting process.

The bill calls for members of commission to be appointed by the governor, House speaker, Senate president pro tem and the N.C. Supreme Court chief justice. But the bills include a provision that would ensure a bipartisan commission by allowing each state official to appoint only one member from his own party.

Redistricting could be one of the hot issues during this year's session as legislators must not only redraw state district lines but could also add a 13th Congressional District. "The General Assembly has inherent conflict drawing its own districts," said Pope.

Since the early 1980s there have been several lawsuits against the state in regards to unfair districts. Racial and partisan gerrymandering cases have been brought before the N.C. Supreme Court. And one, regarding alleged racial gerrymandering in the 12th Congressional District, is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gerrymandering redraws districts to favor certain demographics. Some level of political gerrymandering is constitutional, but it is unconstitutional if it is determined that race was the predominant factor in drawing the district.

Pope said that redistricting done by independent groups would avoid lawsuits and produce less biased districts.

"The result would be fair and compact geographic districts where people know their representatives," Pope said.

The legislation is supported by non-partisan groups such as the N.C. Center for Voter Education and the N.C. League of Women Voters.

Jesse Rutledge, spokesman for the N.C. Center for Voter Education, said the state would benefit from this new policy regardless of who is in power -- the Democrats or the Republicans.

But the bills could divide the legislature along partisan lines as Democrats control both chambers of the General Assembly. And, as a result, hold a majority on the redistricting committees.

Rutledge said the Democratic majority party does not want to change the current system because it would lose power, but the Republicans favor the revision to neutralize power.

Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange, and redistricting committee member opposes an independent commission.

"I think the N.C. Constitution assigns the General Assembly to do the job of redistricting, and I think we should do it."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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