The General Assembly passed new maps for State House and Senate district lines on Sept. 17, just before the deadline mandated by the court after Common Cause v. Lewis. The case alleged that the Republican legislative leadership drew the maps specifically to favor their party.
The suit was filed after some state congressional districts were previously redrawn following a ruling in 2017 that they were racially gerrymandered.
The state court agreed with the plaintiffs and declared the redrawn maps unconstitutional on Sept. 3, and ordered them redrawn again by Sept. 19.
Doubt about the fairness of the newly drawn maps persists among Democrats. Common Cause and its co-plaintiffs, the N.C. Democratic Party and individual state voters, filed a motion contesting several of the redrawn state house districts.
As the panel looks over the new maps submitted by the General Assembly, UNC students are responding to the redistricting process and what it means for them as voters.
Anders Pokela, the director for policy research and programming of UNC Young Democrats, said he thinks the new maps are a step in the right direction.
“That being said, there is definitely inherent bias based in the system … This has been going on so long that you can really just erase everything with one redrawing of the districts,” Pokela said. “Taking that extra step into changing the way we do this and really getting a fair, nonpartisan commission, that’s when we’re going to really see change.”
Independent redistricting commissions are an idea being pushed by Democrats in an attempt to create a less partisan way to draw district lines by removing the power from the legislature to do so.
Sophomore Joseph Buckner said he is open to the idea. Buckner is the chairperson of UNC College Republicans, but is speaking independently.
“Exploring the idea of an independent redistricting committee would be something that can bring to the public, maybe we do a voter referendum or something like that, but I think that as of now, we have a fairly good system,” Buckner said.
He said he agrees with the current law of allowing party affiliation to be taken into account when drawing district lines.
“It is allowed, it’s not something that’s prohibited, and I’m sticking with the judicial precedent with that,” Buckner said.
Thomas Ellis, interim vice president of UNC Young Democrats, said he thinks the previous maps were drawn in such a way that Republicans had a huge advantage, so any improvement over that is a good thing, but ultimately it isn’t enough.
“… Ultimately it’s a very low bar to jump over, and I don’t think it goes far enough,” Ellis said. “Overall it comes back down to, we need to have an independent commission or a nonpartisan legislative staff to redistrict.”
Dan Bishop, a Republican former state senator who won the U.S. House special election for District 9 in September, said that his "no" vote on the newest maps was a vote against “pure judicial tyranny” from the court.
Buckner said he thinks Bishop means many state courts are left-leaning and take an activist stance — the courts didn’t want Republicans in office, so they wanted to change the lines.
“We have seen very liberal tendencies come out of these courts in North Carolina, but at the same time, the new lines represent what the state shall vote in, having more Republicans than Democrats," Buckner said. "So I think they’re OK."
Ellis said Bishop’s statement makes it clear the Republicans in the N.C. House and Senate don’t want the process to be transparent and nonpartisan.
"It’s time for fair maps in North Carolina,” Ellis said. “If Republicans are afraid to run in a fair election, they need to find a new job.”
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