By Jesse Wood
N.C. legislators held seven public hearings across North Carolina this week on the proposed district maps for the state House and Senate that are being redrawn after a federal court found unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.
Two maps – one each for the state House and Senate – are proposed. The courts imposed a Sept. 1 deadline for the adoption of new state House and Senate district maps. These proposals will be voted on through next week, beginning on Friday.
WRAL reported that the proposed maps and the redrawing process were blasted as a “sham” at the hearing, for one, because Republican legislative leaders hired the same consultant who created the unconstitutional maps to redraw the new maps. Plus, WRAL reported that the public only had three days to review the maps and one day to study the underlying data used in crafting the maps.
“The court’s findings of racial gerrymandering of 19 House districts and nine Senate districts prompted lawmakers to disregard the race of voters when crafting the new maps. Instead, they focused on maintaining their partisan advantage by factoring in voting patterns in recent elections and on protecting incumbents by not drawing them into the same districts,” Matthew Burns and Laura Leslie of WRAL wrote.
In response to some of the criticisms, N.C. Rep. Jonathan Jordan (District 93, Ashe and Watauga), “Every process can be improved. There’s a lot going on here. We probably did the best we could in getting the information out. It was a good faith effort …. It’s a political process. Each side will have a problem with something the other side is doing.”
He added, “We are trying to meet all the criteria that the court wanted. The problem is the courts didn’t give us enough specifics. We can’t draw it exactly like they say because they didn’t specifically say.”
(Jordan noted that one positive throughout this situation is it’s given Jordan a chance to promote House Bill 200 that he’s been trying to push through the N.C. General Assembly. According to a Common Cause NC website advocating for this bill, “Instead of lawmakers drawing their own districts for partisan advantage, a nonpartisan legislative staff would create congressional and legislative maps completely blind of any political consideration. The bill would take effect for the next redistricting cycle, in 2021.”)
While 28 districts were ruled unconstitutional, the closest of those districts to the High Country are in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, according to a Carolina Public Press report about potential impacts to Western North Carolina districts during this process.
The local House districts aren’t changing under the proposed maps, which are attached below. District 85, which N.C. Rep. Josh Dobson represents, will still be comprised of Avery, McDowell and Mitchell counties, and District 93, which N.C. Rep. Jonathan Jordon represents, would remain as Ashe and Watauga counties.
However, the local Senate districts are altered under this proposal. District 45, which N.C. Sen. Deanna Ballard represents, is currently comprised of Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell and Watauga.
Under the new proposal, District 45 would include Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Wilkes and a portion of Surry County. District 46 would include Avery, Caldwell and Burke counties.
Based on the maps, it’s unclear who would represent these districts if they are changed. On the proposed Senate map, District 45, includes the names of Ballard and Sen. Shirley Randleman, who currently represents District 30, which is comprised of Stokes, Surry and Wilkes counties. For some other district areas, the maps don’t list a legislator.
Aside from confirming what counties would be included in District 45 if the proposal passed, Sen. Deanna Ballard declined to comment and referred any questions to Senate Redistricting Chair Ralph Hise, who didn’t immediately return a message on Thursday.
Prior to the court order demanding redrawn state House and Senate districts, the legislators redrew the congressional map from 2011, which was also redrawn after the 2010 census was conducted. Last year, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to stay a lower court ruling declaring the 2011 congressional map was also the result of racial gerrymandering and unconstitutional.
This redrawing of the map affected the High Country. The 5th Congressional district, which U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx has represented for years, was altered to include Avery, Surry, Stokes and all of Forsythe counties. It shed Iredell, Davie and Rowan to the 13th district.