News: CJ Exclusives

‘Nonpartisan’ district maps draw lawmakers’ ire

Legislative leaders say maps from retired judges violate 'one person, one vote'

Sources: Sanford School of Public Policy, Common Cause NC
Sources: Sanford School of Public Policy, Common Cause NC

A new unofficial congressional district map released Monday by a bipartisan panel of former state judges was not received warmly by the members of the General Assembly who have the legal authority to set election district lines.

The proposal, a result of a joint project between Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and Common Cause North Carolina, is an attempt to show how a redistricting plan that made no attempt to offer an advantage to either major political party would work.

The new map, which the panel said did not account for partisan demographics, would produce six Republican-leaning districts, four Democratic-leaning districts, and three swing districts. The makeup of the maps enacted in 2011, declared unconstitutional by federal courts earlier this year, and the redrawn maps being used in the 2016 elections, favor Republicans by a 10-3 margin. (See comparison of maps here.)

The chairmen of the two legislative redistricting committees, Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, blasted the proposal.

“It is difficult to take seriously this charade of ‘nonpartisan’ redistricting from a national liberal interest group suing to strike down a map that splits fewer counties and fewer precincts than any map in modern state history — when Common Cause’s only problem is that it doesn’t elect enough Democrats,” Rucho and Lewis said in a joint statement. “Notwithstanding that their media stunt violates the North Carolina Constitution’s delegation of redistricting to the people’s elected representatives and violates the requirement of ‘one person, one vote,’ it is troubling that it was done with little transparency and far less public feedback from across the state than the open and transparent process conducted by the legislature.”

The “one-person one-vote” standard requires lawmakers to make districts as equal in population as practicable. For congressional districts, lawmakers have taken that to require a deviation of no more than one person from the average population.

The ideal congressional district population, based on the 2010 Census, is 733,499. All 13 of the districts drawn by the panel show some deviation from that figure, ranging from eight people to 715 (see chart).

Source: N.C. General Assembly

Source: N.C. General Assembly

Common Cause N.C. is one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month challenging the congressional districts. The lawsuit asks federal courts to declare unconstitutional the use of redistricting by political parties to gain a partisan advantage — a principle the judicial branch has not embraced, although recently justices Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsberg have stated concerns about partisan gerrymandering.

The panel of eight retired judges was co-chaired by two former chief justices of the N.C. Supreme Court, Democrat Henry Frye and Republican Rhoda Billings.

“Although we have different political backgrounds, we put that aside to draw districts in a fair and impartial way,” Frye said.

“The members of the panel took very seriously the mission — to create congressional districts without considering politics,” Billings said. “In the process we found that it is not possible to adhere to laws and court decisions applicable to redistricting without crossing county lines.”

Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause N.C., said the exercise was undertaken as support for independent redistricting in North Carolina is growing.

“We are seeing growing agreement among voters and political leaders from both sides of the political aisle that we need to take partisanship out of the way voting maps are drawn in North Carolina,” Phillips said. “The work done by these former judges shows how a truly impartial redistricting process could be successfully adopted in North Carolina.”

The Democratic-leaning districts are primarily centered in the Charlotte and Research Triangle metropolitan areas, along with a district in the northeastern part of the state. The three swing districts are in the Piedmont and the southeastern sections of the state. The GOP-leaning districts cover the rest of the state.

The other members of the panel include two former chief justices, Democrats James Exum and Sarah Parker, former Republican Justice Bob Orr, former Democratic Court of Appeals Judge John Martin, former Republican Court of Appeals Judge Sanford Steelman, and former Republican Superior Court Judge Edgar Gregory.

  • Robert Wilhoite

    If Duke U and Common Cause sponsored this, it wasn’t non-partisan. It appears they made the more densely populated areas that are mainly Demo(n)crat a district and then everything else, hence fly-over country of North Carolina Republican. If this became the new districts then we’ll experience the Colorado effect; large city areas controlling what happens in the entire state.

    • kdog_wnc

      What we have now is Republicans, who got 52% of votes cast in 2014 in Congressional races, controlling 10 of the 13 seats in Congress. Who’s controlling the whole state again?

      • Cyclops618

        How is that different from the election of U.S. Senators? A senator can be elected with less than 50 percent of the vote. The party winning the Senate race gets 100 percent of the office, even if it’s candidate received less than half of the vote. The losing party or parties get no representation.

        In democratic elections, the winner usually takes all.

  • ProudlyUnaffiliated

    Communist Cause doesn’t want to follow the law, it wants to ram its desires down our throats. Glad it was viciously attacked as it was by Rucho and Lewis! (Memo to McCrory– take note on how these guys responded.)

  • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

    Looking at the map comparison. I do not see a significant difference between the 2016 maps and the “non partisan” maps these hacks drew. I doubt you could ask for much better than the 2016 map…unless you are a democrap. It certainly makes the 2011 map look messy.

    • kdog_wnc

      democrap. That’s nice.

      • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

        Thanks, I like the term too.

  • DC

    For the past 140 years there hasn’t been an issue with partisan district maps….but when a once-in-2- generations Republican Majority does the redistricting then there is a sudden judicial realization that “politics are involved and that is not a good thing”!

  • eqvideri

    This map might not be perfect — which wasn’t the bipartisan group’s goal, anyway. It’s not intended to show *the* solution, but rather one possible solution, likely among many. Or, more to the point, the possibility of finding a solution.

    But if Justice Kennedy finally concludes that partisan gerrymandering by either party violates the one-person, one-vote rule (by making some citizens’ votes count a lot more or a lot less than others’), something like this is coming sooner or later.

    • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

      You are somewhat right. But the solution put in place for 2016 looks to be as good if not better. The fact is the radical leftists are just expressing their sour grapes. Look for this issue…and all the court battles…to die down if the democraps ever get control again. This “non-partisan” district committee will suddenly become a non-issue for all the parties pushing it now once that happens. They will go on merrily gerrymandering to their benefit.

      • kdog_wnc

        This “radical leftist” will continue to express my sour grapes, as long as my vote doesn’t count. In 2014, Democratic Party candidates for Congress in North Carolina received 48% of the vote statewide. Yet Republicans sit in 10 of the 13 seats in Congress. I live in the 11th district, the traditional “mountain district” that in my 30 years here has been held by Democrats like Jamie Clarke and Republicans like Charles Taylor. Heath Shuler, a Democrat, won the seat in 2006. After the 2010 election and the census, the GOP took Asheville, the heart of the mountains, out of the heart of the mountain Congressional district, guaranteeing that the mountain district would be in Republican hands. Now Florida carpetbagger Mark “government shutdown” Meadows holds the seat, and Asheville is in a district that stretches east to include Gastonia.

        If you want an oligarchy, with one-party rule like Russia, you draw these districts so that the votes don’t matter. And that is what we have right now in North Carolina.

        • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

          Yes, I am sure you were all happy pappy when the democraps had the same split. Or were you actually actively advocating for a “non-partisan” redistricting board. From what I recall from the late 90’s to the time Republicans came into power that was a non issue. We Really Are Liberals (WRAL) never had stories advocating this issue at the time. You just have to come to terms with your station in life like we used to under the democrap “oligarchy” from the end of the war between the states up to a few years ago. Who knows, in 140+ years you may be happy.

  • kdog_wnc

    We’re going to kick McCrony and Forrest Gump out of Raleigh this fall. We’re going to overcome the veto-proof majority in the state House of Representatives, and restore North Carolina to its rightful place as a socially progressive business-friendly state.

    • Cyclops618

      NC is already a business-friendly state due to conservative state policies.