New Gerrymandering Lawsuit Targets NC Maps, and Proposes Some of Its Own

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RALEIGH

Another lawsuit is challenging North Carolina’s new district maps for both Congress and the state legislature, alleging both racial and partisan gerrymandering.

Numerous outside analyses of the new maps have found that if Republicans and Democrats split the statewide vote roughly 50-50, Republicans would likely win 10 of the state’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives due to the way the district lines are drawn.

A GOP candidate could also flip an an 11th seat that’s considered highly competitive and could go either way. That seat, represented by Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, used to be one of two majority-minority districts in North Carolina but lawmakers redrew it to be majority-white.

Republicans would also be nearly guaranteed to keep a majority in the state legislature in future elections under the new maps, The News & Observer has reported, due to the number of safe seats that lawmakers drew for themselves.

The lawsuit claims that even if Democratic candidates were to win the statewide vote by a significant margin, it still wouldn’t be enough to take control of the legislature.

“Indeed, it would likely take a statewide win by at least seven points for the minority party to have a chance to elect a majority of the seats in any of those chambers — something that never happens in a state as 50-50 as North Carolina,” a press release announcing the lawsuit said.

Republicans could expect to win 60% of the legislative races — enough for a veto-proof supermajority — with just 50% of the statewide vote, one of the filings in the lawsuit claims.

What the lawsuit asks for

Filed Tuesday in Wake County Superior Court, the lawsuit differs in several ways from another gerrymandering lawsuit filed earlier this month, which challenges only the congressional maps and only on the basis of partisan gerrymandering. That previous one makes many of the same arguments and involves many of the same lawyers as .a successful 2019 gerrymandering lawsuit that forced the lines to be redrawn before the 2020 elections.

This new challenge is broader, making claims of both partisan and racial gerrymandering and seeking to overturn all of the new maps. The N.C. League of Conservation Voters is behind the lawsuit, claiming that Republicans have unlawfully entrenched themselves in power and are using that power to fight environmental causes.

The lawsuit also proposes a new set of maps that the plaintiffs say would not only be more fair than the state’s official maps, but also score higher on several criteria the legislature came up with to guide this year’s process.

They said they drew them using computer algorithms designed to come up with the most equitable solution, rather than one intended to help a specific political party.

“This suit is about harnessing the power of mathematics and computer science to identify and remedy the severe constitutional flaws in the redistricting maps recently enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly,” the lawsuit says.

If they win, the challengers say the legislature should be forced to redraw new, fairer maps — and that if they don’t, then a court should replace the current maps with the ones the challengers drew.

Maps.jpg
On top, the 2021 congressional map approved by N.C. Republican lawmakers that is being challenged in court as unconstitutional gerrymandering. Below, the computer-generated map proposed as a replacement by the plaintiffs. Compiled from court filings in Wake County Superior Court

Republican Sen. Ralph Hise, a top redistricting official, said he sees the lawsuit as being purely about politics, not fairness.

“The same people who complain about openness and transparency want a judge to order into law maps drawn in secret,” he said. “The same people who argue that a 50-50 statewide vote means districts should be drawn to meet a predetermined 50-50 partisan outcome want to impose districts that elect zero Republicans in urban counties.”

He noted that the N.C. League of Conservation Voters, which is behind the lawsuit, is also a major donor to Democratic politicians.

“It’s just more hypocrisy from far-left activists who want to sue to give Democrats power,” Hise said.

One of the plaintiffs is former Durham lawmaker Mickey Michaux Jr., a leader in the civil rights movement who became one of North Carolina’s first Black state lawmakers since Reconstruction when he was elected in the 1970s. He mostly retired from politics in 2018. Several other plaintiffs include North Carolina voters who are also professional mathematicians and helped come up with the new computer-drawn maps they’re proposing.

They say their maps would not guarantee either Democrats or Republicans a majority in an evenly split election, but rather seek the goal of “competitive elections in which the majority would be up for grabs in any given election.”

Their congressional map could range from 8-6 in favor of Republicans to 8-6 in favor of Democrats, the lawsuit says, and in the state legislature the majority could swing either way, by a difference of a few seats in either the state House or Senate.

A legislative attorney heavily involved in redistricting posted on Twitter that the proposed maps represent a “shameless attempt by partisan plaintiffs to try to get activist judges to impose a Democratic gerrymander.

“There’s no way this algorithm for replacement maps wasn’t loaded with inputs that dictated drawing as many Democratic districts as possible,” Brent Woodcox tweeted.

Breaking down the maps

The lawsuit’s proposed maps would likely lead to either a tie or a Democratic majority in the N.C. Senate, and either a tie or a Republican majority in the N.C. House, depending on which past election data is used to predict future results.

The proposed maps would still have only a small number of competitive seats for the legislature, much like the official Republican-drawn maps. They would achieve the closer results by creating fewer safe Republican seats and more safe Democratic seats than in the official maps, an expert witness’ report shows.

In congressional races the proposal would likely have created an 8-6 Democratic advantage in 2020, based on the lawsuit’s analysis. However, using 2016 instead of 2020 results, the analysis shows the same map likely would have created either an even 7-7 split or an 8-6 Republican advantage.

The proposed congressional map has five “tossup” seats that could go either way with just small changes in voting patterns, the expert witness report says, instead of just one competitive seat in the official map.

Politics and race

The challengers say their maps also do a better job at protecting the rights of Black voters. Republican leaders have said this year that they don’t have reason to believe there is any racially polarized voting in North Carolina, and therefore they saw no reason to intentionally create majority-minority districts as has been required in the past.

The lawsuit disagrees, saying North Carolina has a long history of disenfranchising Black voters because they tend to oppose the favored candidates of white voters, and that majority-minority districts are necessary to help Black communities be represented in politics.

“Black citizens’ ability to attain anything approaching fair representation in the General Assembly and in North Carolina’s congressional delegation thus hinges on fair districting—that is, districting that respects the politically cohesive, geographically distinct black communities that exist today in many parts of North Carolina,” the lawsuit says.

Republican lawmakers have consistently said they did not use either racial or partisan data in drawing the maps, and have defended the process as being open and transparent. GOP leaders held multiple public hearings both before and after the initial drafts of the maps were finished, and also livestreamed the map-making process online.

“I hope that you will all acknowledge the truly historic nature of the process we have seen this time around,” Republican Rep. Destin Hall, a top redistricting official, told Democrats before a vote on the maps. “The unprecedented transparency and the unprecedented decision to not use political data in drawing these maps.”

Typically in the past, lawmakers of both parties have instead drawn the maps behind closed doors — often using political consultants to guide their decisions. Democratic leaders have said they suspect Republicans secretly had outside help again this year, The N&O reported, but a top GOP redistricting official denied that.

“I have hired no outside consultants for the drawing of these maps,” Republican Sen. Ralph Hise said.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at link.chtbl.com/underthedomenc or wherever you get your podcasts.

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This story was originally published November 17, 2021 10:25 AM.


Profile Image of Will Doran

Will Doran reports on North Carolina politics, particularly the state legislature. In 2016 he started PolitiFact NC, and before that he reported on local issues in several cities and towns. Contact him at wdoran@newsobserver.com or (919) 836-2858.

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