Rep. David Lewis, chair of the House Committee on Redistricting, said during a meeting Friday that he did not know of any legislative maps already drawn at his or legislative leaders’ direction.
Rep. Henry Michaux Jr. (D-Durham) questioned Lewis about whether or not there were already maps drawn that had not been unveiled to the public in response to a court order to remedy unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
Lawmakers were at a joint House and Senate Redistricting Committee meeting Friday, which included a public hearing in which many residents accused Republicans of already having the maps drawn.
“I’m confident that those maps have already been drawn,” said Jen Jones, who works for Democracy NC but said she was speaking on behalf of herself as an Orange County resident who grew up in Warren County. “Please as a North Carolinian and voter, show us the maps, and I promise as North Carolinians and voters, we’ll tell you exactly how we feel about them.”
The overwhelming majority of the 31 people who spoke, several of whom disclosed they worked for voting rights organizations, begged lawmakers to use a nonpartisan process to redraw unconstitutional legislative districts.
Ira Botvinick, of Raleigh, asked lawmakers to pass House Bill 200, a redistricting reform measure that would take drawing maps out of the hands of politicians.
“I want my vote to matter,” he said. “I did not come here to criticize Republicans. Gerrymandering is wrong.”
Mike Jennings, of Cary, said he wanted a fair and transparent drawing process.
“I know in the past others have drawn districts to favor them — I agree, it was wrong,” he said. “It’s time to turn the corner.”
He asked lawmakers to turn the other cheek and rise above partisanship, adding that it was the right thing to do.
“My children [and] grandchildren are counting on you,” he said.
Others suggested criteria for redistricting, including transparency, compact and contiguous districts, an efficiency gap calculation, equal population and no racial or partisan gerrymandering. They questioned the Republican lawmakers commitment to using their input in light of re-hiring national GOP mapmaker Tom Hofeller as a consultant in the process.
“Nonpartisan redistricting is fundamentally about preserving democracy,” said Heather Simon, also of Cary.
She added that the current districts do not represent the will of the people of North Carolina, and that “once lost, democracy is very hard to regain.”
Dallas Woodhouse, Executive Director of the N.C. GOP, also spoke at the public hearing and said the party supports using traditional criteria in the redistricting process — both keeping counties as whole as possible and using some race but “not too much.”
“We also think the use or discussion of statewide election data is completely irrelevant, even though it is largely favorable to the North Carolina Republican Party, that has won an overwhelming amount of the statewide election races in the past six years,” he said. “We do not elect people on a system of Parliament like they do in Europe — it is not the job of this committee to make a political party that lost 76 North Carolina counties in the presidential election competitive.”
Perhaps the youngest public member who offered input was James Wood, 19, of Raleigh. He asked why lawmakers needed an intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court to draw fair legislative districts.
“In any classroom or workplace, if you turn something in late — five days late — you know exactly what’s going to happen to you,” he said. “You get an ‘F’ or you get fired. But more than five years late? Forget about it.”
Wood, who attends school at Yale University, said it would be understandable if the legislature had worked to fix districts the first time they were found unconstitutional.
“But I have watched you fight justice tooth and nail; others have no doubt watched you too,” he said. “What kind of impression do you think you’re making to young people? I can give you a hint that it’s not too good. We are done with your pettiness and in the not-so-distant future when we’re up there running the show, things are going to be different around here.”
The room started to clap for Wood, but one of the Sergeant-at-Arms told them they weren’t allowed to do that.
Before the redistricting committee meeting, Democratic lawmakers held a press conference to call for fair maps and offer redistricting criteria.
Sen. Ben Clark (D-Cumberland, Hoke) submitted a recommended criteria list to Republican leaders that he passed out at the press event. He said that redistricting needed to be treated with seriousness and urgency.
Democratic leader Sen. Dan Blue said it’s time for the legislature to fix the constitutional violations. He said that actions speak louder than words, and that thus far, Republicans have not instilled a lot of faith with their actions.
Still, he said, he hopes for the best throughout the process and for the opportunity to work constructively with Republicans.
The next joint Redistricting Committee meeting is scheduled at 10 a.m. Thursday in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. Lewis said he expects the committee to adopt redistricting criteria, which will allow them to move forward with drawing the maps.
The maps have to be enacted by Sept. 1.