The NC House Elections Committee approved a bill which would substantially change the decennial redistricting process. House Bill 824, “Nonpartisan Redistricting Process,” would essentially copy the model currently used by the state of Iowa which sets up an independent bipartisan commission to draw the new districts.
The new law would not impact this year’s map, instead waiting until 2020 to remove legislative control of the map-drawing process. North Carolina is one of a few states which does not allow the governor veto power over redistricting, giving Republicans complete control of the process.
The commission would not be allowed to take partisan voting patterns, incumbency, or any other political considerations. The plan would be submitted to the legislature who would have a chance to vote on the proposal without adding amendments. If the plan is rejected, the committee would redraw and resubmit the map to the legislature which would then vote on the second plan, again without amendments. If that plan is rejected, the legislature would revert to the traditional redistricting process.
Unlike Iowa, North Carolina is covered by Section 2 and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, meaning that race must still be considered in the process.
North Carolina’s current map, drawn in 2000 by a Democratic-controlled Legislature, is regarded as one of the most partisan gerrymanders in the nation. The map was challenged multiple times in court with multiple cases reaching the Supreme Court. In the 2010 elections, Democrats were able to hold onto seven of North Carolina’s 13 congressional seats despite receiving 200,000 less votes votes statewide than Republican candidates.
While the measure had sponsors from both parties, Republican representatives raised multiple concerns about the measure. Members voiced nervousness about the fact that precinct splitting is only discouraged, not banned. Rep. Blust (R-Guilford) expressed concern that there was no reason to believe that a future majority would agree to abide by the law, instead reiterating his support for a constitutional amendment to ensure fair redistricting.