Six months ago, Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican, was bold and declarative about legislative congressional maps, putting the state on notice that "We're going to show you how to draw them."
"Fair and legal," he still often repeats when asked about his redistricting strategy, the first GOP-led effort in a century.
The 36 initial public hearings conducted statewide were largely ineffective because no proposed maps were available for the public to comment on. But now the Republicans finally are showing us something.
Last week, GOP leaders released proposals for 27 N.C. House and 11 N.C. Senate districts. These initial maps were drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which prevents politicians-cum-cartographers from crafting districts that weaken minority-voting power.
But many activist groups, including the N.C. NAACP, the Alliance for Fair Redistricting and Minority Voting Rights, Democracy N.C., and dozens of citizens who reviewed these maps last week, are disappointed.
During a five-hour, seven-location videoconference, speakers said that they couldn't fully analyze the maps until they see the complete versions, while noting that what they've viewed so far is "cracking, stacking and packing," far-from-fair tools used to disenfranchise voters.
Cracking means dispersing a group of voters into several districts to prevent them from reaching a majority. Packing means combining as many like-minded voters into one district as possible to prevent them from affecting elections in other districts. Stacking occurs when low-income, less educated minorities are grouped together to create a perceived voting majority but are placed in the same district as high-income, more-educated white voters who turn out in greater numbers.
Many who spoke at the hearing said Republicans are lumping black voters (84 percent of African-American voters are registered Democrats, according to 2008 data from the state board of elections) in districts that will ensure minority representation. In turn, this aggregation would make it easier for GOP candidates to win in neighboring white districts.
Ben Griffin, vice president of the New Hanover County NAACP, called the plans "segregation for partisan advantage."
Tony Moore of Pitt County said that he switched from Democrat to Republican after the last round of redistricting in 2003, but that he's been disheartened by what he's seen in this cycle.
"It's difficult to believe that this redistricting plan is in the best interest of low-wealth people and people of color," he said.
Lifelong Mecklenburg County resident Dan McCorkle was more blunt and characterized the proposed lines as "blatant and shocking in their political audacity." He said mapmakers are using an outdated theory that white voters won't support African-American candidates.
But the Republican leadership—Sen. Rucho and House Redistricting Committee Chairman David Lewis of Harnett County—responded by saying they are following the Supreme Court decisions in building and releasing VRA districts first.
They point to a North Carolina case, Stephenson v. Bartlett, which establishes that counties be contained in one district where possible, but that the VRA should take precedence.
Rucho and Lewis say the state needs 10 Senate districts and 24 House districts to provide African-American voters with a "substantially proportional and equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates of choice."
They reject the assertion that they are constructing these districts to boost Republican election chances.
"While districts that adjoin majority black districts may become more competitive for Republican candidates because of compliance with the VRA, such competitiveness results from compliance with the VRA," the chairmen said in a joint statement.
Elections would become more competitive for Sen. Linda Garrou, D-Forsyth, the deputy Democratic leader. She would be forced out of the district that she's represented for seven terms if the plans are approved.
Rucho, who oversees the Senate maps, wanted to create a minority district in Forsyth, but because he could not find the proper balance of African-American to white voters, he is recommending that the district be drawn specifically to exclude Garrou, noting that she defeated African-American candidates in the 2004 and 2010 primaries.
"I'm 59, and I've never seen a map drawn to isolate a politician like you've done with Sen. Garrou," said Fleming El-Amin, former chairwoman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party. "To me it's really unethical."
Fred Yates is mayor of Winfall, a town of 586 in Eastern North Carolina. "You, ladies and gentlemen, hold the key in your hands to the future of North Carolina citizens," he said at the June 23 hearing, "so we are asking you to do the right thing."