By Kari Travis
Carolina Journal News Service
Raleigh — N.C. lawmakers are once again haggling over how to begin drawing new voter maps. This time, North Carolina’s congressional districts are at stake.
On Tuesday, legislators met in a special Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting, the result of an ongoing congressional redistricting lawsuit, Harper v. Lewis. Last month, a panel of three Superior Court judges ordered a preliminary injunction against North Carolina’s existing congressional map. The 13 districts were subject to an extreme partisan gerrymander, they said.
While judges blocked the existing maps, they didn’t explicitly direct lawmakers to draw new districts. The lack of direction created some confusion Tuesday.
Filing for primary elections is set for early December. No congressional map could mean no congressional election, lawmakers said. That leaves candidates and voters on uncertain ground.
So, legislators “began to begin” drawing a new map. Progress was slow.
During the first two hours of discussion Tuesday, lawmakers agreed to contact North Carolina’s congressional delegation to ask for residency information. They decided to use the same computers and criteria employed in the drawing of new legislative districts in September.
They just couldn’t agree on a starter map.
“As we build this up, we’ve got to start from somewhere — even if it’s blank,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell.
Legislators should use blank maps as a starting point, said Rep. Elmer Floyd, D-Cumberland. Doing so would allow legislators to consider the plaintiff’s objections, district by district.
But Republicans instead suggested the committee use a base map provided by Common Cause NC.
Common Cause was the primary plaintiff in the legislative redistricting case Common Cause v. Lewis, a summer court battle that ended with judges ordering lawmakers to redraw legislative voter maps by Sept. 18. The three-judge panel — the same panel that’s presiding over Harper v. Lewis — told lawmakers they weren’t allowed to consider political or racial data.
The court reserved the right to approve the resulting maps. They did so in late October.
Republican lawmakers Tuesday appeared ready to repeat that process.
Democrats appeared ready to object.
The map provided by Common Cause is devoid of partisan and racial bias, and would be a fair place to start, said Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus.
The scene was familiar. In September, it was Newton who encouraged lawmakers to use the legislative district maps Common Cause provided to the court in Common Cause v. Lewis. While Republicans drew the legislative district maps according to the court’s order, the new districts weren’t unfavorable to the majority party.
Lawmakers wrapped business by 6 p.m. Tuesday, approving a list of map-drawing criteria before adjourning. The legislators agreed to consider equal population from the 2010 federal census data. They also will look at contiguity and compactness of districts. Lawmakers agreed to avoid double-bunking current congressional candidates.
Racial and partisan data won’t be considered as the maps are drawn.