North Carolina GOP’s latest map proposal is less lopsided
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Under a court order to make their redistricting lines more fair, North Carolina Republican lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled new maps that appear to improve Democratic chances to gain seats in Congress and possibly win General Assembly majorities in a very strong year for the party.
The new plans must be voted on and approved in some form by a Friday deadline set by the state Supreme Court, which recently struck down congressional and legislative district lines enacted in November. The GOP-controlled General Assembly could enact these new plans — set to be used for this years’ elections — by Thursday.
A slim majority of justices had ruled that the earlier district boundaries violated the state constitution as illegal partisan gerrymanders. Voters and advocacy groups that successfully sued to overturn the lines said they would have ensured Republican victories in 10 of the 14 state’s U.S. House seats on ballots in the fall and GOP legislative majorities in almost every political environment, even though statewide elections are usually closely divided.
The lines that were voided prevented a similarly large bloc of voters — namely Democrats — from having a fair opportunity to increase their political influence, violating the state constitution’s free election and equal protection clauses among others, the justices ruled.
“The Supreme Court held that our maps must ‘give the voters of all political parties substantially equal opportunity to translate votes into seats across the plan,’” House Redistricting Committee Chairman Destin Hall of Caldwell County said while unveiling a new map for the 120 state House districts. “And that’s exactly what the map before you today does.”
A congressional district map expected to be voted on by a Senate committee late Wednesday could favor Republicans winning seven of the 14 seats and Democrats five, according to an analysis of the results of a dozen 2016 and 2020 statewide election results, as provided by legislative staff.
Two districts without incumbents — one in the south-central Sandhills region and the other that includes part of Charlotte west to the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains — would appear very competitive. Republicans currently hold eight of the state’s 13 U.S. House seats. North Carolina is gaining a 14th seat based on population growth from the 2020 census.
The state House and Senate plans, released by Republicans in their respective chambers, would still favor the GOP to win majorities, which they have held since 2011. But the analysis of election results on the replacement maps projects would make it challenging for Republicans to earn veto-proof majorities — 72 seats in the House and 30 in the 50-seat Senate.
And Democrats would have a chance to earn legislative majorities if they win roughly half of the districts considered leaning Republican, in addition to all of the seats considered solid or leaning Democratic. The Associated Press defined “leaning” seats as those in which the difference between the major-party candidates within the election results is less than 10 percentage points.
Hall described several counties where he said state House lines had become more favorable for Democrats, such as areas in and around Asheville and Greenville. But Democrats on the House Redistricting Committee still voted against the replacement map, however. They questioned whether the election analysis was slanted toward Republicans and whether there had been a sufficient examination of racial polarization in voting — a prerequisite to drawing district lines designed to ensure Black voters could elect their preferred candidates.
“I think there’s still a better way to do this,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat.
Senate Democrats also were unlikely to support the state Senate plan. Senate leader Phil Berger said in a news release that he and Minority Leader Dan Blue had failed to reach a consensus after meeting several times.
“The Senate and congressional maps released (Wednesday) are competitive maps that fully comply with the court’s order,” Berger said.
The congressional plan unveiled by the Senate would keep Guilford County in one district and split Mecklenburg and Wake counties into only two districts. The canceled plan would have split these urban, heavily Democratic counties into three districts each, making it difficult for first-term Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning of Greensboro to get reelected.
The replacements for the maps must be handed by late Friday to a trial court panel, which will have until Feb. 23 to decide whether the plans meet the Supreme Court’s standards. If the maps fail under those standards, a court will draw the new lines.
The districts are supposed to be ready for the Feb. 24 resumption of candidate filing for the May 17 primary.
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