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NC Lawmakers Adopt Criteria For Next Round Of Redistricting

Protesters against gerrymandering at a March 2019 rally coinciding with Supreme Court hearings on major redistricting cases. After the court said the federal judiciary has no role in partisan redistricting cases, legal action is focused on state courts.
Carolyn Kaster
File photo from March 26, 2019 of activists at the Supreme Court opposed to partisan gerrymandering holding up representations of congressional districts from North Carolina, left, and Maryland, right, as justices heard arguments about the practice of political parties manipulating the boundary of a congressional district to unfairly benefit one party over another.

State lawmakers tasked with redrawing congressional and legislative district lines based on 2020 census data will closely follow criteria used in 2019. That is when North Carolina's Republican-majority General Assembly had to replace maps declared to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered with excessive partisan bias.

For the 2019 redraw, the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly followed state court guidance and did not use past election outcomes and partisan data to create new district lines.

This time around, the GOP-majority Joint Redistricting Committee took a historic step in North Carolina, according to committee Co-Chair Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell).

"For the first time ever," Hall said at Thursday's committee meeting, "without a court order but doing it voluntarily, the chairs have put forth a set of criteria before you voluntarily not using election data and partisanship."

The adopted criteria also include drawing contiguous districts close to equal population in size. Lawmakers may also take steps to avoid splitting precincts and municipalities and to keep like-minded communities of interest intact.

Under the criteria, legislators may also protect incumbents and consider members' residences in the make-up of districts, something voting rights advocates who support a more independent method of redistricting oppose, and something Democrats on the committee unsuccessfully tried to change via amendments.

"Voters don't want elected officials to draw maps in districts that favor ourselves," said Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) at Thursday's committee meeting. "I believe that in the past, maps have been drawn with an eye on where incumbents live in order to give certain members a favorable district and others a tougher district."

But Hall defended the practice.

"The chairs feel that this is a traditional redistricting criteria that has been long used, that this committee has used it in the past, the chairs believe that it is best that this committee and this body continue to use this proposed criteria," said Hall, urging members to reject a Democrat-backed amendment that would have prohibited the consideration of incumbents' addresses in the formation of Congressional districts and would only allow the consideration of members' residences to avoid pitting incumbents against one another in a single legislative district.

The committee will meet next week to discuss transparency in the redistricting process and a schedule for public hearings.

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