GOP Leaders Say Court-Ordered Redistricting Will Be Race Blind
North Carolina lawmakers got back to work Thursday drawing new maps for the next election. A group of committee members set the rules for how the maps will be drawn during a joint session of the state House and Senate.
The legislative maps are being redrawn after a federal court found more than two dozen districts were racially gerrymandered. Lawmakers say that race won't be used as a factor this time.
The party-line votes on the GOP-controlled House and Senate run counter to the wishes of most speakers during a public hearing last week who pleaded for politics to be left out of the process. And Democratic committee members scratched their heads when Republican leaders said racial data wouldn't be examined at all even though the boundaries still must comply with the U.S. Voting Rights Act.
"How are you going to prove to the court that you did not violate their order in terms of racial gerrymandering?" Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham County Democrat, asked House Redistricting Committee chairman David Lewis. "You cannot escape the fact that race has to be in there somewhere."
Some of the criteria passed without much fuss, others were more contentious.
One area of disagreement was how compact the districts will be. That can be measured with mapping software. And Senator Paul Lowe, a Winston-Salem Democrat, raised questions about whether that program was being used to its full extent.
“I know we’re using two approaches. There’s eight possible approaches. Why is it we’re just looking at these two?” he said. “I want real clarity.”
GOP legislative leaders said the criteria will now go to an outside mapmaker they've hired with taxpayer money — the same one used in 2011.
Lewis said preliminary maps are planned to be released before an anticipated public hearing Aug. 22 or 23. The first votes by the full General Assembly could come Aug 24. They’re under a court order to have them done by Sept. 1.