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Voting rights groups approve of new (but old) Wake districts, disapprove of process

 

Voting rights groups commended lawmakers for approving a redistricting plan Monday in four Wake County House districts that reverts them back to their configuration as they were drawn in 2011, but also criticized them for redrawing the districts in the first place.

Lawmakers initially redrew the districts, House District 36, 37, 40 and 41 as part of a remedial process to fix racially gerrymandered districts. A three-judge panel, however, later ruled the specific Wake districts that were changed as part of that process violated the North Carolina Constitution’s prohibition on mid-decade redistricting — lawmakers didn’t have the authority to redraw the districts while fixing other districts.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represented plaintiffs in N.C. NAACP v. Lewis, the case that led to the most recent redraw.

“For this entire decade, Wake County voters have been consistently denied the ability to vote in constitutional districts,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney at SCSJ. “In 2011, they were forced into racially gerrymandered districts. Then in 2017, lawmakers tried to skirt the state constitution for partisan gain. The districts enacted today could and should have been put in place two years ago.

Plaintiffs in N.C. NAACP v. Lewis included the N.C. State Conference of NAACP Branches, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, Democracy North Carolina, the A. Philip Randolph Institute of North Carolina, and four Wake County voters.

The redistricting plan enacted Monday was drawn by a court-appointed expert in 2017 as part of the remedial proceedings of a federal redistricting case, Covington v. North Carolina, in which the court found that 28 state legislative districts drawn in 2011 were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

The court’s map-drawer respected the North Carolina constitutional prohibition on mid-decade redistricting, but the legislature objected to the federal court’s implementation of maps designed to comply with state law, arguing only a state court could do that. Ultimately, it took another lawsuit, N.C. NAACP v. Lewis, to order the legislature to enact a redistricting plan that did not violate the North Carolina constitutional prohibition on mid-decade redistricting.

“The adoption of the special master’s districts would not have been necessary if the legislature hadn’t engaged in gerrymandering in the first place, and if North Carolina instead had in place a system of nonpartisan redistricting,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause. “We call on state lawmakers to enact lasting reform this session that permanently takes redistricting power out of the hands of legislators and entrusts it with an independent body that will draw our voting maps in a nonpartisan fashion, with full transparency and robust public input. It’s time to end gerrymandering for good and establish fair redistricting now.”

Common Cause is involved in a state court case over partisan gerrymandering in the redistricting process. The group and SCSJ are also involved in the U.S. Supreme Court case over the same issue, which is expected to announce its opinion later this week.

A half-dozen bills have been filed this legislative session that would establish nonpartisan redistricting for North Carolina. However, legislative leaders have not yet allowed any of these proposals to be given a vote or even a hearing, despite broad, bipartisan support among North Carolina voters for redistricting reform.

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