News: CJ Exclusives

Senate passes new legislative districts with strong bipartisan support

Senate district map passed Sept. 16, 2019  (NCGA graphic)
Senate district map passed Sept. 16, 2019 (NCGA graphic)

With a fast-approaching deadline, the Senate passed its 2020 legislative district map with bipartisan approval, voting 38-9. 

During floor discussion Monday, Sept. 16, some Democratic lawmakers rehashed concerns brought up earlier in committee. Some said that unpairing incumbents that is, drawing lines to ensure two elected senators don’t have to run against one another makes it easier for partisan bias to worm its way back into the redistricting process. Other lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, lauded the committee’s final product as an exceptional piece of bipartisan teamwork.

The map earlier passed the Senate Redistricting Committee with only one no vote. 

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, who testified on behalf of plaintiffs during the Common Cause v. Lewis trial, expressed his approval of the maps and the map-drawing process during the floor discussion.

“I think it was a remarkable experience especially when you consider the current political climate,” he said.

Redistricting Committee Chairman Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, also struck an affirmative tone, echoing lawmakers’ earlier statements that the process was exemplary, not only for North Carolina as a swing state, but also for the nation. 

“[The map] meets all the criteria the court has laid out and, quite frankly, should be a national model,” he said.

During committee discussions, Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, had urged the redistricting committee not to use the maps provided for the July redistricting trial, Common Cause v. Lewis, by University of Michigan political science professor Jowei Chen. Chen’s maps, she said, were based on old election incumbency data, and it would have been better to ask Chen to run more current map simulations. 

But now, she says she’s satisfied with the final product. She noted that, unlike the House, the Senate committee kept microphones on while drawing the maps over the live computer feed, letting the public both hear and see the map-drawing process live.

“I believe these Senate maps are as good as humans can draw,” Marcus said. 

Sen. Michael Garrett, D-Guilford, opposed the maps, saying that Chen’s models were never intended to be used as a “remedial tool,” but simply as evidence for the trial. 

He also opposed any process allowing elected officials to draw maps for their own districts, saying an independent body should do the work. But he didn’t offer an alternative way to redraw the maps while meeting the Superior Court’s deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday to submit them.

He added that protecting incumbents is a disservice to voters. Politicians who are allowed to draw their own maps are like students allowed to write their own exams: the politicos keep their seats, and the students know all the answers, he said.

“The bias toward self-preservation is part of human nature,” he said. “And despite what some people might think of us, we are all humans.”

Earlier in the day, the Senate and House held a joint public hearing allowing comments and critiques about the way lawmakers carried out the redistricting process. Each speaker had 90 seconds to make a statement in the committee room, and several said they were concerned that the emphasis on breaking up incumbents allowed excessive partisan gerrymanders to continue. 

Both legislative chambers will convene Tuesday to discuss the others’ maps. The Senate elections and redistricting committees also will consider amendments to the House map before that measure reaches the Senate floor. An amended bill would be returned to the House for a concurrence vote.

Then comes the next step in the process: review by the court’s appointed referee, Stanford Law School Professor Nathaniel Persily.