By Theresa Opeka
The North Carolina General Assembly is slated to give final approval to the state’s new congressional and legislative district maps on Thursday. The three proposal boundary maps moved quickly through committees and floor votes this week. During Thursday’s sessions the House is slated to pass the map for U.S. congressional seats in North Carolina, and the map for N.C. Senate districts. The Senates will consider the N.C. House district map.
There is already a lawsuit filed asking the court to block the maps and move the state’s candidate filing period of December 6, and the March 2022 primary elections. The lawsuit has been filed by Southern Coalition for Justice on behalf of the N.C. NAACP and Common Cause, the same groups that filed multiple suits over the last maps. This time they are opposing that lawmakers did not consider race in the boundaries.
Wednesday on the Senate floor, Sen. Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, one of three co-chairs of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said lawmakers didn’t use racial or election data as part of the criteria but rather considered equal population — the number of persons in each legislative district within plus or minus 5% of the ideal district population. They also weighed contiguity, county groupings as required by previous court cases, only splitting voting districts when necessary, the compactness of districts, municipal boundaries, and the use of member residence.
“Following those criteria, we did our best keeping communities together, kept counties whole, municipalities and precincts or voter tabulation districts,” Hise told the chamber. “We also tried to draw compact districts while respecting these communities. We did this without using racial or political data to draw the districts or reach some predetermined number of Republican or Democrat seats.
Hise told colleagues the Senate map follows criteria for keeping counties whole and drawing districts with minimal county splits.
“The Stephenson anti-gerrymandering provision provides a map that only splits 15 of the 100 counties in the formation of the 50 Senate districts,” he explained. “For the 15 counties we did have to split, we tried to leave as many in the district based in their home county. Besides counties, the most concrete way to define a community is a municipality or (voting district). We were able to limit split municipalities to 11 out of 552 municipalities or less than 2% of our municipalities. We also followed the spirit of the criteria and kept as much of the community whole in one district as possible. In Cumberland County, for example, 88% of Fayetteville was kept in the district, and 85% of Hope Mills was kept in the district.”
Hise thanked co-chairs Sens. Warren Daniel, R-Caldwell, and Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, for working on the maps, calling it an “incredible and amazingly transparent effort with all of the drawing of the maps being live-streamed.”
Dan Blue, D-Wake, too, thanked the senators.
“Where most of the Democratic seats are, in the urban areas, Democrats ended up the only ones being double-bunked,” Blue said. “That isn’t an issue with rural legislators. We ended up with double-bunking in Wake, Guilford, and two double-bunkings in Mecklenburg. All but one was resolved. The process sorted out members and districts. I appreciate the effort for unbunking those.”
Double-bunking is part of the redistricting process placing two incumbents in a single district. Blue did, however, introduced some of the several amendments to the maps, all of which were tabled.
The new maps establishing voting districts for the next ten years, until the 2030 U.S. census. This congressional map designates a 14th U.S. House district for the state after the 2020 census showed enough of an increase in population to give North Carolina an additional representative in Congress.