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Wednesday June 29th

Wake County court suspends candidate filing period to consider new congressional map

<p>The General Assembly approved a new congressional district map for the 2020 election cycle on Nov. 15, 2019. Photo courtesy of the General Assembly.</p>
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The General Assembly approved a new congressional district map for the 2020 election cycle on Nov. 15, 2019. Photo courtesy of the General Assembly.

The Superior Court of Wake County indefinitely suspended the filing period for candidates seeking a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The decision was made by Judges Joseph Crosswhite, Alma Hinton and Paul Ridgeway after a week of controversy surrounding congressional districts and gerrymandering ahead of the 2020 election.

On Nov. 15, North Carolina lawmakers approved a new map of congressional districts to be used in the 2020 election. The bill passed along party lines in the N.C. House on Nov. 14 and the N.C. Senate on Nov. 15 — it was then sent to the courts for approval.

The new map does not change the districts of current incumbents — all current representatives will continue to represent the same number district, even if the borders of that region have changed. While the incumbent members consist of 10 Republicans and three Democrats, as of Nov. 16, nearly 2.5 million voters are registered Democrats and just over 2 million are registered Republicans in North Carolina.

In October, the court granted a preliminary injunction against the use of congressional districts established in 2016 and suggested that the General Assembly move immediately to create new congressional districts.

“The Court suggested the General Assembly proceed in a manner that ensured full transparency and allowed for bipartisan participation and consensus that would result in congressional districts more likely to achieve the constitutional objective of allowing for those elections to be conducted more freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people,” Wednesday’s decision states.

N.C. Rep. Verla Insko, D-District 56, representing Orange County, said the redistricting process was a joint effort between the House and the Senate, and data regarding voter registration or race was not considered. Rather, she said, the main focuses were population, communities of interest and keeping counties whole.

In the new map, 12 counties are split into two congressional districts. The legislature also used the Roeck Test: a measure of how compact districts are. With a maximum score of 1, which indicates the most compact districts, the new map scored an average of 0.37.

Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC, also noted that the restriction from using voter data in the redistricting process is due to the Common Cause v. Lewis decision. The Lewis case also required that the maps be redrawn in public hearings without using the original unconstitutional districts as a starting point.

However, Insko noted that legislators who have been involved in the redistricting process for a long time already have a general sense of the racial and voter registration data in various regions and may have brought that into the process of building new maps.

Phillips said these new maps, while they may change which party controls a certain district, fail to address the underlying issue: North Carolina’s congressional delegation does not represent the purple state that it truly is.

“The maps are a byproduct of a flawed process,” he said. “It is simply another version of predetermined districts.”

Phillips said competitiveness is the desired outcome when creating congressional districts.

“Without it, you have people serving who really are not able to be held accountable because they know that they don't have to do a whole heck of a lot to keep their seat,” he said.

Phillips said when districts are not competitive, politicians are pushed away from the center — instead, Republicans push further to the right and Democrats to the left in their respective primaries, exacerbating the already serious partisan divide.

One solution? An independent commission that takes politicians out of the process altogether, he said.

“If we have full sunshine on the process, the elimination of politics out of the process, and something independent, totally away from politicians drawing the maps, I think that can go a long way toward producing more competitive districts than what we have now,” he said.

The Superior Court of Wake County has stated that the new maps will be reviewed on Dec. 2 at 9 a.m., along with both the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ motions for summary judgment on the original lawsuit.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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