This is how the North Carolina General Assembly could gerrymander NC, again
A four-hour redistricting committee hearing on Thursday gave us clues about how the Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly could try to racially gerrymander North Carolina again, despite the Supreme Court’s clear ruling to do otherwise.
This was two days before white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, terrorized a town, murdered a young woman, and brutally beat minorities and activists. Gerrymandering to dilute minority votes and strengthen white votes is a form of white supremacy, and it is in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
The Supreme Court ordered North Carolina to redraw its maps because they were racially gerrymandered, and North Carolina’s redistricting committee, led by Representative David Lewis and Senator Ralph Hise, showed us how they will racially gerrymander once again.
The North Carolina Constitution gives the authority to the North Carolina General Assembly to draw the boundaries of state and federal legislative districts. This makes drawing political lines to the party in power’s advantage incredibly tempting — and it has been done by both parties throughout history. You could argue that both parties lose when they are gerrymandered — it can lead to extremism and minority rule, subverting the will of the people.
How did they gerrymander North Carolina in 2011?
Packing vs. Cracking: Packing and cracking are two major strategies for diluting votes. Packing put as many voters as possible in as few districts as possible, so that the end goal is less representation in government. Cracking splits voters of the opposing power into as many districts as possible, but in such small numbers that they have very little voting power.
Below you can see where cracking and packing apply:
In May of 2015, North Carolina residents and nonprofits sued the North Carolina General Assembly and the State Board of Elections for violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs in a unanimous decision, and directed the General Assembly to redraw the maps under fair districting criteria.
How are they going to screw us?
The General Assembly has until September 1 to draw new maps under fair criteria. During the 4-hour redistricting committee hearing to determine what constituted fair criteria, the democrats did a fine job of pointing out the many ways that the new criteria could continue to gerrymander North Carolina, including using race.
Here’s some of the criteria that leaves openings for the NCGA to racially gerrymander:
- Compactness: The committee states that it will make a reasonable effort to improve the compactness of districts — basically, they are stating that they will kind of try to make sure that democrats and minorities aren’t too squished into a small number of districts. They will use two scores that can measure compactness — known as the Reock score and the Polsby-Popper score. Minority and democratic legislators were concerned that other relevant scores — such as scores that measure population — will not be included in the criteria.
- Municipal Boundaries: Basically, minorities and democrats live in cities, so this is an area ripe for exploitation. Under this criteria, the committee may consider municipal boundaries when drawing legislative districts. African-American legislators wanted stronger language to say that the committee should consider municipal boundaries. Representative Lewis stated that they would try not to divide municipalities as stated by previous court cases. Furthermore, Representative Michaux of Durham pointed out that communities of color cross municipal boundaries, and wanted to know how they would be considered or protected. Specifically, how would communities of interest, as defined in previous court cases, be considered under this new criteria. Democrats and minority legislators proposed amendments that would technically define “communities of interest” as “communities of color”. Their concern lies in the fact that communities of color can expand beyond the boundaries of municipalities. While municipalities are protected and considered, communities of color are not. Communities of color that extend beyond the boundaries of municipalities, therefore, could be exploited.
- Fewer Split Precincts: Precinct-splitting is a part of map-drawing, and is difficult to avoid. However, the 2011 racially-gerrymandered maps out of the NCGA had far more split-precincts than previous maps with the goal of diluting minority votes. The proposed criteria calls for “less precinct splitting” — but it is not very specific on what constitutes “less.” Could it be one less precinct, still allowing for diluting votes by splitting precincts? Democrats asked for amendments to address this concern, which would require that precincts be split for population reasons only, and not for partisan advantage. Representative Lewis and Republicans did not oblige.
- Protecting incumbents: This one set off some fighting words between Jeff Jackson and Representative Lewis. The criteria proposed by the Republican chairs would prioritize protecting incumbents. The irony being, of course, that the current incumbents are a product of gerrymandering. Why should incumbents in these gerrymandered districts, many of whom may not be in the capitol today if it weren’t for gerrymandering, be protected? And will this priority outweigh other criteria such as precinct-splitting, considering communities of interest, and compactness?
Amendments offered by Democrats but refused by Republicans:
- Total Black Voting Age Population: Democrats offered an amendment to require that legislative districts did not have a total black voting age population of more than 50%. This could prevent specific things they did in when drawing the maps in 2011, which reduced the voting power of African-Americans. Republicans were strongly against this amendment.
The refusal to consider race incited some strong words from the African-Americans in the General Assembly:
“If you don’t consider us — if you don’t consider me — whether you say it or not, you are considering race” — Representative Michaux on the North Carolina General Assembly’s refusal to define and prioritize race in drawing new legislative maps
“Do you know that by not considering race you are defeating your own purpose?” — Representative Michaux, Durham
The long-term solution to this is changing the laws that govern how we draw our legislative districts. Until we do this, we will continue to expose citizens to exploitation from politicians trying to accumulate ever more power.
Follow DemocracyNC to stay on top of what’s happening with gerrymandering in North Carolina. If the state legislature once again draws unconstitutional maps, pressure your elected officials in the state legislature to reject racially gerrymandered maps.