The Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly on Tuesday finished its court-ordered task of redrawing dozens of state house and senate districts in a very undramatic fashion. The House voted for the Senate remap and the Senate approved the House proposal.
The task comes two weeks after a dramatic, first-of-its-kind ruling on September 3 when a Wake County Superior Court judicial panel declared Republican lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly had gerrymandered legislative districts for excessively partisan gains and, therefore, violated the state constitution.
By court order, the redistricting process had to be transparent, which meant live-streamed, open committee sessions and lawmakers gathered around computer terminals with a non-partisan staffer adjusting district boundaries following certain guidelines.
The House had to redraw dozens of districts in 14 county groupings. In the Senate, seven county groupings needed to be re-worked.
"They were maps that were drawn in public and not in secret and that far more people had input then in the past," said Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. Pinsky lobbies for clients including Common Cause, one of the plaintiffs in the partisan gerrymandering lawsuit.
"But I think the maps will look not incredibly dissimilar but a little bit better," she added. By better, Pinsky said she means districts that put people in closer contact with their representatives, as opposed to stretching districts to accommodate politicians.
"That's one of the things that taking partisanship out of redistricting does is that people have to be able to be competitive in a district so we as voters are going to be able to force them to answer our questions, to talk to us, they're going to have to work to get our vote and work to keep it," Pinsky said.
Pinsky lives in a district represented by state Sen. John Alexander, the sole Republican in the Wake County senate delegation.
That district is comprised of mostly GOP Franklin County but dips into Wake to include Alexander's home, something that some people call "the Alexander notch." The newly drawn remedial maps eliminate the notch. Alexander has indicated he is not running for re-election.
But Pinsky said partisanship will never be completely removed from the process until district map-making is done by, say, an independent commission.
That is something state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) said in announcing his vote against the redrawn senate maps, though Jackson did praise the integrity of this round of redistricting.
"My vote is going to reflect the fact that I, in principle, will never vote for a redistricting in which a politician drew it because I believe that is fundamentally indefensible," Jackson said.
More than half of the Senate's Democrats supported the maps, though many also advocated for an independent redistricting commision.
The court required mapmakers to aim for equal population among districts and to avoid splitting precincts or Voter Tabulation Districts, also called VTDs.
Mapmakers were prohibited from considering past election data but could make reasonable efforts to avoid pairing incumbents in newly drawn districts.
State Sen. and Redistricting Commmittee Chairman Ralph Hise (R-Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Yancey) hailed the Legislature's efforts under a tight deadline.
"I think we have a good product here that represents this Legislature, its body, but meets all the criteria that the court has laid out and, quite frankly, exists as a national model," said.
The three-judge panel will now review the maps with the help of a special referee and either approve them or appoint a special master to re-draw the districts.
Once a set of maps is approved, they will only be used for the 2020 elections. So, it may be back to partisan business as usual for a new round of redistricting following next year's decennial census.