It's been a busy few days in the world of legislative redistricting. Stay tuned, because we're not done yet.
Over the weekend, members of the Republican-led joint commission on redistricting released their proposed maps for the state House and Senate districts, after the current ones were determined to be illegally racially gerrymandered earlier this year. Yesterday, the committee released demographic data for the proposed districts, including an area’s past voting patterns. And today, there will be seven public hearings across the state for people to weigh in on the mapmaking process.
Much attention has rightfully been paid to the redistricting process in the state and its potential implications for the composition of the General Assembly. The new maps come after the Supreme Court in June sided with a lower court ruling that 28 of the state's 170 legislative districts were racially gerrymandered. To remedy that, courts gave the legislature until September 1 to draw new legislative districts—and the maps that they come up with could make a real difference in the state's legislative makeup.
North Carolina is fundamentally a purple state, but Republicans hold supermajorities in both the House and the Senate, allowing them to override Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's vetoes. Democrats need to win just three seats in the House or six in the Senate to break the supermajority and hand Cooper enough power to sustain his vetoes.
But that doesn't appear likely with the new maps proposed by the committee, says Bob Phillips, the executive director of the advocacy group Common Cause, which has long advocated for nonpartisan redistricting.
“The Republican party would maintain their supermajorities when we run and look at the elections by and large,” Phillips says. “Certainly factors of what 2018 may look like could change things, but generally the maps that they have created don’t change the calculation, the majorities that they have at all.”
According to an analysis in the N&O, lots of the districts will remain uncompetitive in next year's election:
The numbers released Monday show that just 10 of the 50 Senate districts will likely be competitive next year—those are the only districts in which either Trump or Clinton would have won by single digits. Seven of the competitive districts lean Republican and the other three lean Democratic. On the other hand, a handful of districts would have seen presidential results as lopsided as a 70-30 split. Just 19 of the 120 House districts are competitive by that measure, including 12 that lean to Republicans and seven that lean to Democrats.
And the new maps, Phillips notes, are still gerrymandered.
"This is again the legislature being guilty of being partisan gerrymandering, which they made no bones about,” he says. “They said they were going to do partisan gerrymandering when they did the congressional maps last year, and they’ve done it again with the state maps. The current maps are clearly an example of partisan gerrymandering and it gets the same results that we had with the old maps."
Democrats may not like the Republicans’ partisan gerrymandering, but for the time being it remains legal. Lawmakers in the redistricting committee recently voted to consider political and partisan advantage when drawing the maps—hence, the demographic data they released yesterday—but not racial data. But this could eventually change. The Supreme Court is slated to hear a Wisconsin case later this year that addresses whether legislatures can draw lines explicitly to boost the dominant party’s political fortunes. That could be a major game-changer, says Phillips.
"If the Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional and that kind of a ruling prevailed across the country then that would really potentially change things in a good way," he says. "[If the court rules that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional] I think we would petition the legislature and say, these maps that were drawn in a way that was using partisan data is in violation of the law and we need to redo them."
At a committee meeting a few weeks ago, GOP leaders confirmed that they will make use of the services of political consultant Tom Hofeller to redraw the maps. The Raleigh-based Hofeller helped draw the lines of the gerrymandered maps the Supreme Court just ruled were unconstitutional (he will be netting $50,000 for his services this time around). Hofeller's strategic and highly technical crusade to draw maps that favor Republicans is no secret; in 2012, an Atlantic article outlined his "quest to destroy Democrats."
Meanwhile, time to get the districts approved before their looming deadline is running out. The House and Senate need to vote on the maps, which have to be submitted to a three-judge panel for approval by September 1.
Looking at the maps and don't like what you see? Stop by one of the seven public hearings—including one at the legislature—on the proposed maps kicking off at four p.m.