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Census Delay Could Impact Redistricting In NC

In this Monday, July 15, 2019 file photo, a state districts map is shown as a three-judge panel of the Wake County Superior Court presides over the trial of Common Cause, et al. v. Lewis, et al, in Raleigh, N.C.
Gerry Broome

The delay of census data could undercut transparency in North Carolina's redistricting process, according to voting rights advocates.

Under court direction, North Carolina's Republican-controlled General Assembly hammered out a new set of legislative and congressional district maps in 2019. Advocates had successfully argued in state court the political boundaries had been drawn with extreme partisanship.

Now, 2020 census numbers aren't expected until September. Common Cause Executive Director Bob Phillips said at a news conference Wednesday the public wouldn't have ample time to examine new maps before North Carolina's 2022 primaries in March.

"This could shortchange the redistricting process where we wouldn't get the public input, the public hearings,” Phillips said.

The state's top elections administrator – Karen Brinson Bell –  has recommended lawmakers move all of this year's municipal elections to 2022 and bump back next year's primaries from March to May.

North Carolina tops the list of states likely to engage in extreme gerrymandering, according to voting rights advocates.

The state’s most recent set of legislative and congressional district maps were redrawn in 2019 under court direction, after a state judicial panel found the Republican-controlled Legislature had manipulated earlier political boundaries with excessive partisanship. 

Phillips says he's concerned lawmakers will hatch new maps in a hidden process.

“We still need to push for greater public input on both the front end and the back end and certainly a little bit more context of what is happening as these maps are being drawn,” Phillips said.

Phillips said it was a good thing the court in 2019 ruled partisan data could not be used in the crafting of maps, but added that the process must still be more transparent.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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