The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday January 26th

Republican-led General Assembly ready to redistrict

Could give GOP even more control

State census data released Wednesday will kick start a legislative power that could give Republicans the political advantage for many years.

Every 10 years, state legislators use population numbers to redraw voting districts. The process is usually a political battle because the ruling party can draw the lines in a way that makes it difficult for the opposition to win seats.

Democrats have held that advantage for most of the state’s recent history, but this year will be different as Republicans won the majority in the N.C. General Assembly for the first time since 1898.

“This time around, I think you can expect it to be contentious once again,” said Jenna Robinson, a UNC graduate student writing her dissertation on redistricting in the state. “I do expect that there will be a court challenge.”

When the state was last redistricted in 2001, Republicans sued in court, accusing Democrats of unfairly redistricting for partisan purposes, a practice known as gerrymandering, Robinson said.

The redistricting committee has not met yet, but they are expecting to begin looking at state maps next week, said Sen. Ed Jones, D-Bertie.

But there is no specific timeline for the process, said Sen. James Forrester, R-Gaston.

The committee’s goal is to complete redistricting by the time session adjourns, he said.

“It’s going to be a challenge and it’s not really an easy process,” Jones said.

The committee does not have a clear idea of what the changes will be across districts yet, he said.

“There will be some minor changes due to the population changes in North Carolina,” Forrester said.

The population in the state increased by almost 17 percent in the last decade, according to the census data.

The eastern part of the state is likely to be most affected, possibly even losing a Senate district, Jones said.

Bob Hall, executive director for Democracy N.C., said urban and suburban counties have experienced the most growth in the last decade.

“Wake County and Mecklenburg County are the two counties that have gained population the most, and they will gain two or three seats in the General Assembly,” he said.

The redrawing of congressional districts is particularly a challenge, considering their population must be divided almost equally, Hall said. The 1st and 2nd congressional districts likely will change the most.

“They’re going to be dramatically impacted because of the loss of population in the northeastern part of the state,” Hall said.

Forrester said the infamous 12th congressional district, which stretches from Charlotte to Winston-Salem, is known as a snake district ­— it includes minority communities along its stretch.

“I don’t believe we’ll want to have a district that looks like that,” Forrester said.

The changes will probably create opposition, especially when it comes to race issues and the fear of Republican gerrymandering, Jones said.

As one of only five Democrats on the 15-person redistricting committee, Jones said he wants to think the redistricting will be fair but that he is a realist.

“I think the people who are in power are going to do anything that makes it more favorable for them to win,” he said.

But Republicans said there should not be a problem with illegal gerrymandering.

“I think our main goal is to make sure our redistricting is fair and legal,” Forrester said.

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