Redistricting Lawsuit Victors Say NC House Map Falls Short
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — One-third of the North Carolina House districts that state legislators redrew this month because of previous excessive bias favoring Republicans are still flawed by partisanship and secrecy, victors in a recent redistricting lawsuit warned on Friday.
Lawyers for Common Cause, the state Democratic Party and Democratic voters filed their formal objections to 19 House districts in state court. They asked the three-judge panel that ruled in their favor three weeks ago in a partisan gerrymandering case to step in and take over the redrawing in five multi-county groupings containing the districts, likely through an outside referee the judges picked.
They lodged no complaints against the Senate map, which received strong bipartisan support in the chamber.
"This court gave the General Assembly an opportunity to draw remedial maps and cure their prior constitutional violations," attorney Eddie Speas wrote for the plaintiffs. "Although its process was not without flaws, the Senate has done so. But the House has not."
Republican lawmakers have until Oct. 4 to respond to the plaintiffs' objections. Earlier this week, the GOP defendants wrote a memo explaining why the alterations approved by the General Assembly following several days of public debate and discussion should be left alone and used for the 2020 elections.
The three judges ruled Sept. 3 that nearly 80 of the 170 state legislative districts approved in 2017 were tainted by partisan gerrymandering designed to maximize GOP control of both chambers, violating the North Carolina Constitution. Several redistricting researchers said that overall the House and Senate maps were less skewed toward Republicans with the changes compared to those used in last year's elections. The base for both sets of district changes actually originated from maps a redistricting expert hired by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit trial.
But the plaintiffs wrote Friday that Jowei Chen, the University of Michigan researcher and plaintiffs' expert, has analyzed the enacted maps and that the replacement in four or the five county groupings is an "extreme, pro-Republican partisan outlier."
The plaintiffs allege attorneys for the Republican defendants improperly emailed partisan data with House Redistricting Committee members about Chen's base districts, and used consultants with experience in election data without the court's permission. They say that runs counter to the judges' order prohibiting legislators from using voter registration percentages and election results in the new districts and from "any intentional attempt to favor voters or candidates of one political party."
Republicans have said the partisan data wasn't used, and that they complied with all standards set by the judges. The plaintiffs also told the court that incumbent legislators had too much power over how districts were redrawn to favor them. The judges had said that only "reasonable efforts" could be taken to prevent incumbents from living in the same new district.
The groupings that the plaintiffs want redrawn a second time are districts in Guilford County; Columbus, Pender and Robeson counties; Forsyth and Yadkin counties; Cleveland and Gaston counties; and Brunswick and New Hanover counties.