North Carolina lawmakers began redrawing the state’s legislative maps Monday, following last week’s Wake County Superior Court ruling that deemed them unconstitutional for partisan gerrymandering.
With less than a week until their Sept. 18 deadline, lawmakers redrawing the lines were also ordered to follow strict nonpartisan criteria and maintain transparency throughout the process.
Bryan Warner, director of communications for Common Cause North Carolina, said the level of transparency in this process is something that has not been seen before.
“In past redistricting scenarios, what you really have is the maps are drawn behind closed doors, and no one really sees them until they’re done and presented,” said Warner. “It all has to be done in public view, so it really gives an exciting opportunity for the people of the state to have this front-row view.”
In November 2018, Common Cause, a nonpartisan, pro-democracy grassroots organization, sued N.C. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who produced the maps.
Warner said this case challenged partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts in violation of the North Carolina constitution.
The trial was held in July. On Tuesday, Sept. 3, a three-judge panel of the Wake County Superior Court ruled state legislative maps unconstitutional. According to the ruling, the court found that the legislative maps established in 2017 were created with partisan intent to maintain Republican jurisdiction.
The court ruling prohibits lawmakers from using partisan data in the redistricting process.
Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank, said House districts in 28 counties and Senate districts in 21 counties are affected by the ruling.
According to the ruling, the court also imposed a number of restrictions to the redistricting process. These include prohibiting the use of the invalidated 2017 districts as starting points and disproportionately pairing incumbents in the same voting district.
To move forward with the redistricting process, the redistricting committees from both the House and Senate must agree on a baseline map, Kokai said. The baseline will act as a starting point for the new legislative maps.
Once the baseline map is agreed upon, the redistricting committees can begin amending it.
On Monday, lawmakers initially agreed to use baseline maps that were created by Jowei Chen, professor of political science at the University of Michigan. Chen also served as an expert for the plaintiffs in Common Cause's case.
“The Republican legislature thinks that as a baseline, one of those maps would work because the maps were designed with criteria that the court would agree with,” Kokai said. “They would differ enough from the maps that are just thrown out, that they could be seen as a suitable baseline.”
Chen produced 2,000 simulated maps for the trial — 1,000 were created using only standard redistricting criteria, and another 1,000 were created using that criteria in addition to incumbency protection information.
But when Chen’s files from the trial were sent to lawmakers, they contained partisan data, such as partisan scoring.
Although the House redistricting committee received the email containing this data, Lewis told N.C. Policy Watch it was not downloaded or reviewed by its members, and the link was disabled.
The following day, the Senate redistricting committee posted both a base county and base statewide map that will be used to redraw the lines.
Kokai said he thinks it is clear from discussions in the Senate and House that Democrats are suspicious about the process.
“I think they’re suspicious about anything Republicans do, especially redistricting,” Kokai said. “To be fair, I would suspect that if the shoes were on the other feet, Republicans would be raising similar questions about why are you choosing this method of addressing this.”
Warner said many Republicans today understand that gerrymandering is a problem and that regardless of political affiliation, voters do too.
“Regardless of which party is doing the gerrymandering, the people of the state suffer, and people across the political spectrum really recognize that this is something that needs to happen,” Warner said. “I think a lot of people are tired of the ongoing controversy, and they want to have a better, fairer process, and that’s what this court case is able to do, really show how a fairer, better process can work.”
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