State lawmakers will look at proposals for reforming the way political boundaries are drawn for North Carolina elections. Sponsors of three bills will address the House Redistricting Committee Thursday just as a state court takes up a lawsuit challenging North Carolina's current congressional maps.
The three bills--HB 140, HB 69, and HB 648--have bi-partisan sponsors. Two would establish independent commissions to draw maps and the third would have legislative staff do it with input from an advisory commission. All the measures would prohibit the use of partisan data, such as past election results, the political affiliation of registered voters, and location of incumbents' residences.
"I think a good, honest discussion also helps us see that our divide isn't really a partisan divide on this issue, our divide is just a belief on how best to move forward," said Rep. Robert Reives (D-Chatham, Durham), a sponsor of all three bills.
"I think that the litigation that's been taking place has increased the impetus for us to take a look at changing the process to try to do something better," said Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford).
Previous district maps drawn by North Carolina's Republican-controlled General Assembly were struck down by a federal court for establishing unconstitutional, racially gerrymandered districts.
More recently, a state court declared maps for North Carolina's legislative districts were unconstitutional gerrymanders on the basis of extreme partisanship and needed to be replaced for the 2020 elections. The three-judge panel in that case is now reviewing new maps drawn in a more transparent process according court-ordered criteria.
Thursday, the same three-judge panel is holding a preliminary hearing in a new lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina congressional district maps. In that case, the plaintiffs, more than a dozen Democratic-leaning voters, claim the GOP-drawn maps violated their rights under the state constitution by either packing them into districts with other Democrats or splitting their districts to ensure a Republican majority in North Carolina's congressional delegation. That lawsuit was filed by a non-profit group tied to the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, chaired by Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General under President Obama.
No votes on the bills are expected when the redistricting committee meets Thursday.