- 2011 Civitas article illuminates the history of redistricting arguments
- In the past, Democrats admitted drawing voting maps for political purposes
- A three-judge panel noted that redistricting is “ultimately the product of democratic elections”
North Carolina Republican lawmakers have answered a three-judge panel ruling earlier this month with a new congressional map that makes changes to all 13 districts and looks very different from the map it replaced. Since the unveiling, Gov. Pat McCrory has called the General Assembly back into a special session to approve the map.
The federal panel ruled that the Republican majority in the legislature relied too heavily on race when they drew the 1st and 12th districts in 2011. They gave the state until Feb. 19 to draw new districts. The Republican-led legislature unveiled the new congressional map two days early, revealing a map that seemed to surprise everyone. While the political outcome seems to remain the same (10 Republican and three Democratic districts), the districts appear to be markedly more compact. The map is being redrawn even though the previous districts were approved by the U.S. Justice Department and the North Carolina Supreme Court and used in the 2012 and 2014 elections.
Given that it has been nearly five years since the legislative and congressional maps were first drawn, it is interesting that a Civitas article written in 2011 is so timely. Neal Inman, then a Civitas intern, wrote about North Carolina’s newly drawn Congressional and legislative maps in August 2011. Inman helped put this decade’s redistricting in perspective by taking a look back at the redistricting that took place after the 2000 census.
At that time, it didn’t take five years to find a court that would rule against the legislative maps drawn in 2001, he wrote. “Because the 2001 Democratic maps violated the Whole County Provision of the North Carolina Constitution, the state Supreme Court struck down the legislative maps in the Stephenson decisions. The 2002 election maps were drawn by a judge, but Democrats took the opportunity to redraw the maps in 2003.”
Inman pointed out that there was a stark difference in how the Republican Party drew the districts in 2011 compared to how they were drawn in 2001, 2002 and 2003 when Democrats controlled the legislature:
“The years 2000 through 2004 were filled with lawsuits and backdoor wheeling and dealing over lines drawn by a Democratic majority. Those controlling the process ignored complaints from Republicans and even Democratic African-American legislators. … The process was done with no transparency. Lawmakers were barely able to see their districts before voting on them.”
According to Inman, back in 2001, the issue of race was front and center too:
“African-American Democrats revolted at the prospect of a map with very few majority-minority districts, endangering the map’s passage in the closely divided House. Democratic Speaker Jim Black told the public that the map was drawn to ensure that Democrats would have control of the body, and that giving African-Americans more seats would endanger that majority.
“’Every time you change one district, you change districts around it. Every time you do that, you change the balance of power in the state,’ said Black. ‘I personally believe African-American citizens will be better off with Democratic leaders for the next 10 to 20 years.’”
In 2011, Inman also noted an irony that is present today: “Many of the same voices calling for increased numbers of minority-majority seats in 2001 are now decrying the Republican maps for doing just that.”
And while today’s Democrats are now denouncing Republicans for drawing maps to their advantage, Inman noted they once aimed to do the same:
“Democrats have always been keenly aware of the advantage redistricting gave them. As late as 2010, Gov. Bev Perdue told Democrats at the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner how important it was that they hold onto the General Assembly in a redistricting year. ‘We must have Democrats redraw those maps,’ she said.”
In 2016, it looks as if the legislature is pushing ahead with the newly drawn congressional map, not waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a stay of the federal courts ruling. If the new redistricting bill (map) is passed in both houses and signed into law by the governor (a redistricting bill is not subject to the governor’s veto), and the federal panel approves of the newly drawn districts, the legislature must then call for a new primary election for congressional districts. In fact the legislature did just that, as this article was being published. In a news release from the Office of the Speaker of the House, a new schedule was announced for the primary elections:
Calling the redistricting bill a “contingency plan” the Speaker’s Office release states that while they hold-out hope the U.S. Supreme Court will issue stay, but if not, the following schedule will be set in place.
- The primary date will remain March 15, 2016, for all other races including Presidential, Gubernatorial, and Legislative.
- The Congressional Primary date is June 7.
- Reopens the filing period for interested Congressional candidates from March 16 – March 25, 2016.
- Explicitly outlines that any and all votes cast for Congressional races via absentee ballot on the March 15th primary date will remain confidential and will not be counted.
- Changes the absentee ballot application deadline to 45 days prior to the June 7 primary to help ensure the State Board of Elections has enough time to print and mail ballots.
- Establishes that there will be no runoff primaries in the 2016 election cycle.
We only go through the redistricting process every ten years and it’s easy to forget that redistricting is fundamentally a political process. Perhaps another three-judge panel ruling on the same maps in 2013 said it best when they found North Carolina’s legislative and congressional maps to be constitutional. In Dickson v. Rucho and NAACP v. State of North Carolina, the Superior Court panel concluded: “Redistricting in North Carolina is an inherently political and intensely partisan process that results in political winners and, of course, political losers. The political party controlling the General Assembly hopes, through redistricting legislation, to apportion the citizens of North Carolina in a manner that will secure the prevailing party’s political gain for at least another decade. While one might suggest that there are more expedient, and less manipulative, methods of apportioning voters, our redistricting process, as it has been for decades, is ultimately the product of democratic elections and is a compelling reminder that, indeed, ‘elections have consequences.’”