- Behind a veil of impartiality, Common Cause is seeking to get more NC legislative districts changed to favor Democrats.
- Examining one of the sets of districts Common Caused objective to demonstrates how they selectively use whatever criteria is favorable to Democrats when they complain about a district.
Not satisfied with the results of court-ordered redistricting on September 17, a national progressive group is trying to force a redrawing of some of North Carolina’s legislative districts further in favor of Democrats.
Common Cause, a national progressive organization whose major donors include George Soros and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, is one of the main plaintiffs in the lawsuit that caused the redistricting order. The group claims that legislators did not comply with court orders when they drew remedial district maps. The liberal group has filed a brief with the superior court judges who heard the original case detailing their objections to those new districts.
Arguing that the remedial process was not good enough
Common Cause starts out with several objections to the process by which the maps where drawn, the biggest being that lawyers for the legislative defendants had emailed map files that contained partisan data (such as precinct-level voter registration or election results information) to General Assembly staff who were preparing the base maps that legislators would work with.
There is little doubt that legislators and legislative staff members are aware of partisan data, with or without having been exposed to the data from that email. As we saw from testimony in Common Cause v. Lewis, legislators and experts on both sides are fully informed on the political ramifications of how districts are drawn.
However, the court’s order states that “partisan considerations and election results data shall not be used” (emphasis added). It does not state that partisan considerations and election results shall not be known. Common Cause could not demonstrate that political data was actually used in the process and was reduced to stating that on page 10 of their brief that the court “cannot be certain such did not occur.”
They also claimed that Rep. David Lewis used outside counsel in the redistricting process in violation of the court order and that “House incumbents ignored compactness in amending the maps” (page 8).
As if they did not find their own arguments convincing, Common Cause did not ask that all the districts drawn by the General Assembly be thrown out or even that all the state House districts drawn by the General Assembly be thrown out. Instead they focused on just five of the state House groupings: Columbus-Pender-Robeson, Forsyth-Yadkin, Gaston-Cleveland, Brunswick-New Hanover, and Guilford. For the sake of space, I will only cover the first grouping here as an example of their critiques.
Sample: The Columbus-Pender-Robeson County Grouping
Since the court only gave the General Assembly two weeks to draw maps, legislators decided to start off with base maps rather than draw and analyze new district maps from scratch. They decided to start with maps produced by political scientist Jowei Chen for the plaintiffs in Common Cause v. Lewis. Those thousands of maps were then ranked based on criteria laid out by the court, such as compactness and splitting fewer municipalities, and the five highest ranked maps selected. One of those five maps was then chosen randomly by lottery (literally). The Columbus-Pender-Robeson county grouping in figure 1, marked “base map,” was part of the chosen map. Members of the legislature then had an opportunity to amend districts on that map, including to prevent double-bunking (having two or more legislators in the same district). The amended Columbus-Pender-Robeson grouping is marked “amended map” in figure 2.
The base map had double bunked Republican Reps. Brenden H. Jones and Carson Smith. To separate them, the legislature shifted the border between the 16th and 46th districts so that Jones was back to the 46th. Common Cause complains that the revised 46th district was about two percentage points more Republican than was the base map. However, the district still leans Democratic by Common Cause’s measure. The heart of their argument is that the legislature acted with “impermissible partisan intent” by adding more Republican-leaning precincts in southern Columbus County to the 46th District than was needed to move Jones to that district.
Strangely, Common Cause does not make an argument against the clear lack of compactness in the revised 46th District as they did with other districts . Part of the reason for that may be that the hook around the southern and western portions of Robeson County were part of the base map used to start the redistricting process. However, increasing compactness would have also put more Republican-leaning precincts in eastern Robeson County into the 46th District. Since Common Cause complains about a lack of compactness elsewhere in their brief, their lack of concern over compactness here is telling.
Common Cause has demonstrated some moderation in only challenging five of the county groupings in September’s court-ordered redistricting maps. However, as shown in their treatment of the Columbus-Pender-Robeson grouping, their choice of what factors to complain about exposes their own partisan intent.