Less than a month after publicly stating that he “sincerely” hoped Democrats would engage in the redistricting process, Rep. David Lewis kiboshed all of the minority party’s suggestions for map-making criteria Thursday.
Democratic Senators and Representatives offered several amendments throughout Thursday’s meeting to adopt criteria submitted by Republican committee chairs. None of their amendments were adopted, despite many reflecting the public comments from last week.
House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson said after the meeting that he didn’t feel like his party has been part of the process at all, not only in voting but also in the presentation of the criteria.
“The Democratic criteria were submitted in advance of today’s date, so that they were prepared, whereas we were handed theirs this morning,” he said, adding that they did get to caucus but didn’t have time to prepare beyond that. “I think if you want people to be included, you don’t wait til the last minute.”
Here are the criteria that Republicans and Democrats agreed to and voted unanimously for Thursday (paraphrased):
- Equal population — the committees will use 2010 Census data as the sole basis for population in drawing the new maps. The number of people in each district will comply with +/- 5 percent deviation standard established in N.C. Supreme Court case Stephenson v. Bartlett.
- County groupings and traversals — the committees shall draw legislative maps within the county groupings required by Stephenson. Within county groupings, county lines shall not be traversed (moved back and forth), except as authorized by some court cases.
That’s all. The other seven criteria were not agreed upon and were mostly adopted with votes along party lines. They are (paraphrased):
- Contiguity — legislative districts shall be comprised of contiguous territory. Contiguity by water is
sufficient. **Sen. Ben Clark submitted an amendment to strengthen the language of this criteria but it failed.
- Compactness — the committees shall make reasonable efforts to draw legislative districts that improve the compactness of the current districts. There are a few processes that legislators can use to achieve this, several of which were debated at the meeting.
- Fewer split precincts — the committees shall make reasonable efforts to draw legislative districts that split fewer precincts than the current maps. **Jackson submitted an amendment to expand the language of this criteria so that legislators could only split districts in compliance with the equal population criteria and not to achieve partisan advantage. The amendment failed. Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncome) submitted a similar amendment and it also failed.
- Municipal boundaries — the committees may consider municipal boundaries when drawing new maps. **Clark submitted an amendment that would have allowed committee members to also consider communities of interest, but it failed.
- Incumbency protection — reasonable efforts and political considerations may be used to avoid pairing incumbent legislators with other incumbent legislators in new districts. Democrats argued that this should no longer be a consideration after districts were ruled unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered.
- Election data — political considerations and election results data may be used in the drawing of new legislative maps. This was a hotly contested issue, of which you can read more about below.
- No consideration of racial data — data identifying the race of individuals or voters shall not be used in the drawing of new legislative maps. This was also a major point of debate, of which you can read more about below.
The three major sticking point for Democrats at the meeting had to do with partisan advantage, incumbency protection and the lack of consideration of any racial data — though they debated a lot more.
Van Duyn told her Republican colleagues that voters made clear last week that they want a redistricting process free of partisan considerations. She added that it was the most important criteria heard in the public comments.
Perhaps one of the most spirited debates came from Rep. Henry Michaux Jr. (D-Durham) when legislators discussed not using racial data at all to redraw the maps.
“If you don’t use race to correct [racial gerrymandering] how are you going to show the court the maps are not unconstitutional?” he asked.
Lewis said he thought that not including information about race would satisfy the court’s order to redraw the maps. He did not address most of Michaux’s comments other than to say he disagreed with them.
“You’re still short-changing race,” Michaux said. “You’re still short-changing a group of people if you don’t consider us.”
Sen. Paul Lowe Jr. (D-Forsyth) chimed in just before a vote was taken.
“We live in the South,” he exclaimed. “When, in the South, has race not been a factor?”
Jackson said after the hearing that the Democrats have long been saying they were in favor of independent redistricting. Incumbency protection and partisan advantage helps protect each one of them, he said, but they voted against those patterns Thursday.
“I think that just shows you we are in favor of doing this in a more nonpartisan or bipartisan way,” he said.