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Public Wants Even More Say In North Carolina's Redistricting Process

Redistricting Hearing 091521 durham tech.jpg
Rusty Jacobs
More than 100 people filled an auditorium at Durham Technical Community College on Sept. 15, 2021, for a public hearing before members of the North Carolina General Assembly's Joint House and Senate Committee on Redistricting.

Members of the North Carolina General Assembly continued their barnstorming tour across the state Wednesday night with a couple of public hearings on redistricting — one in Nash County and the other at Durham Technical Community College.

Legislators will soon start redrawing boundaries for North Carolina's state legislative and congressional districts with 2020 census data. The hearings are part of the General Assembly's effort to make the process of redrawing the state's legislative and congressional districts more transparent.

But many of the people who spoke in Durham made it clear they want more public input throughout the process of redrawing the state's legislative and congressional districts.

More than 100 people packed an auditorium at Durham Tech, many of them signed up to speak to members of the General Assembly's Joint Senate and House Redistricting Committee. Many of the people who commented urged lawmakers to make the process fairer than in the past. They want map drawers to create districts that preserve like-minded communities and to avoid splitting municipalities and districts in a way that puts the interests of incumbent office-holders over the voters who elect them.

"Making sure that voters count, that their votes count, that their voices count," Durham resident Angela Simms McMillan, 71, told WUNC.

McMillan was the first person in the Durham Tech audience to speak to the lawmakers.

Morrisville resident Nathan Click — a small business owner and U.S. Air Force veteran who attended the public hearing at Durham Tech with his 14-year-old son — said he was skeptical the state's Republican-majority legislature would heed the public calls for reforming the redistricting process by taking such steps as creating an independent map-making commission, something many people in the audience advocated for.

"But I can hope, right? And I think we can all hope," Click said. "It's kind of like putting foxes in charge of the hen house but I think if we make changes incrementally and get people elected who truly want to represent the people, then change will happen."

Raleigh resident Adam Kridler, 28, added: "This process is about rebuilding trust in our community and our state."

Kridler said that trust had been damaged in large part by the map-making process of the past decade, marked by protracted litigation and the findings of various courts at the state and federal level that maps drawn by North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature were unconstitutionally gerrymandered on the basis of race as well as excessive partisan bias.

Like others in the audience, Kridler said lawmakers should keep the map-making process transparent and ensure that there will be opportunities for public comment after new maps are drawn.

Republican legislative leaders are aiming to finalize a North Carolina state government budget and complete redistricting by the end of October, House Speaker Tim Moore said on Wednesday.

“The goal right now is to have a budget finalized in the first week or second week of October,” Moore said. “And then I think redistricting would probably fall in the next week or so after that.”

Lawmakers have more public hearings scheduled through the end of September across the state before they start the actual work of redrawing district boundaries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rusty Jacobs is a politics reporter for WUNC.
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