North Carolina Judicial Map Makeover Moves Forward In Committee
On Tuesday, plans to redraw North Carolina’s judicial districts took a step forward during a special House committee meeting held in Raleigh. It was the first of several committee meetings scheduled to take place in September. The full House could debate proposed maps within the next four weeks before the General Assembly reconvenes in early October.
Republican lawmakers say the proposals in House Bill 717 will make boundaries more uniform and equitable based on population and geography. They argue that over the last half century, judicial redistricting has been done on a patchwork basis, and claim that reforms are long overdue. Democrats and others opposed to the redrawing of judicial maps see partisan advantage swinging further toward the GOP.
Catawba College Political Science Professor Michael Bitzer says one of the key things surrounding this issue is the fact that North Carolina is politically segregating itself.
On the political advantages to be gained through redistricting:
If you look at precinct returns, more and more precincts are voting for one party substantially over the other party. Yes, North Carolina statewide is a competitive state at times, but the precinct level returns that make up these districts are being skewed more and more to the advantage of one party over the other. And in urban areas, it is much more of a Democratic dominance that is occurring at the grassroots and at the local level. So, putting together judicial districts, district attorney districts, you can basically start to bring districts together by packing in certain precincts that vote one way or the other. Now, what the Republicans are trying to do is to insulate at the local level the Democratic dominance that is happening particularly at urban levels, and trying to make Republicans competitive at those local levels.
On how judicial races are generally perceived by the public:
When it comes to judges, and particularly to district attorneys, these are often times the forgotten elected offices. Often when you work your way down the ballot as a voter, you get to perhaps a judicial election or a district attorney election and you say "I’m not really sure who these folks are." So, partisan affiliation tends to lead voters if they don’t know the specific candidate or the individual running for the office. The voter will take the cue of does it have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ behind it? Traditionally that has been a way of voters having the easy option of casting ballots for these very less-known but very influential and important elected offices.
On policy outcomes that may shift due to judicial redistricting:
If you’re talking about district attorneys and what their stances on sentencing would be, for example, I think a modern mantra of the Republican party is to be hard on criminals... to ensure that individuals who break the law suffer the consequences for doing so if they’re found guilty in our due process system. So, I think for a district attorney candidate on the Republican side for example, [they] would be very much a kind of law and order [candidate] much more on the law side, the order being severe sentencing recommendations. So, that could be a potential policy impact that, if Republicans were able to insulate or at least give a competitive leg up to Republican candidates seeking those offices, that in turn would have a policy impact if those folks get elected.