Despite some continuing concerns about gerrymandering, Wake County Superior Court judges have upheld the current congressional and legislative maps in time for the primary elections on March 3.
The Superior Court upheld the legislative maps in October 2019 after objections were raised by Common Cause, a nonpartisan grassroots organization. The court denied complaints about the transparency of the process and objections to districts in the grouping of five counties.
According to the Oct. 28 order that upheld the state’s legislative maps, the court addressed concerns that N.C. Rep. David Lewis, R-District 53, and chair of the House Redistricting Committee, had met with Republican redistricting strategists behind closed doors when choosing a base map.
The judges said despite the lapses in transparency outlined by the complaint, the chosen map had broad bipartisan support and there was an unprecedented amount of transparency during the process. In regards to the county groupings, the judges found that the General Assembly complied with court mandates in each case.
“These maps should help us have somewhat more competitive legislative races,” Marilyn Carter, chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, said.
Carter said the Democratic Party is looking ahead to have more representation at the state level and preparing for another round of redistricting after the 2020 census.
N.C. Rep. Verla Insko, D-District 56, also looked ahead to the Democrats' next steps in the legislature. Insko said she was disappointed in the decision to uphold the current maps despite districts that were still gerrymandered but said the maps were fairer than the previous maps.
“We are going to work to regain the majority,” Insko said. “If we do, I believe one of the first bills we are going to file will be a nonpartisan redistricting commission.”
After the court blocked the use of the 2016 congressional maps in October, the General Assembly chose to redraw the districts. The candidate filing deadline was Dec. 20, 2019, so a drawn-out court case would have possibly resulted in changing the date of the filing period and the 2020 primary.
In the Oct. 28 ruling, the court acknowledged the negative effects that would result from adjusting the primary schedule: decreased voter turnout, greater costs and additional labor. The court said if the new congressional map was drawn quickly, in a transparent and bipartisan manner by the General Assembly’s own initiative, then there may be no need to continue the case.
N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-District 50, who testified at the trial where the Superior Court found that the legislative maps were unconstitutional, said the districts were still gerrymandered and there were more uncompetitive districts than competitive.
“Elections are fair or not fair," Meyer said. "It doesn’t matter if they happen today or tomorrow. I wish that the courts had taken the time to slow this down and do it right.”
The new congressional maps were passed by the General Assembly on Nov. 15. Then on Dec. 2, the Wake County Superior Court ordered that candidate filing could begin. The decision removed the possibility of changing the date of the primary elections for 2020 and confirmed the use of the new congressional maps.
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said the group was also disappointed by the court’s decision to use the current congressional maps for the 2020 election. Phillips said the remedial congressional maps still did not provide enough competition within districts to fairly represent North Carolina. With the concerns about transparency, he said it would have been appropriate for the court to have a third party draw the map.
Phillips referenced the previous case about the legislative maps, which ruled that partisan gerrymandering was against the state constitution and asserted that lawmakers were not supposed to use partisan data when drawing the districts. He said the General Assembly did not violate the law and that the process was for public view, but the group still had concerns about transparency and ensuring no partisan data was used.
“It really is still going to be a flawed process until we can take the mapmaking out of the hands of lawmakers,” Phillips said. “We still don’t have the bright guideline rules in place that we need to truly make it a real transparent process to have the guard rails to prevent partisan data from being considered.”
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