State Rep. John Hardister (R-Guilford) joined Robert T. Reives II (D-Durham, Chatham) , Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), and Brian Turner (D-Buncombe) as the primary sponsors of the a bill to establish an eleven-member commission to handle legislative redistricting. House Bill 69 would also establish the criteria the commission would use to draw those districts. The bill has so far attracted eighteen other sponsors, including thirteen Democrats and five Republicans. Redistricting is currently handled by the General Assembly but legislators have regularly submitted bills proposing a redistricting commission for well over a decade. Of course, in those days it was Republicans calling for a commission while Democrats insisted the current process works just fine.
Here are the basics of the proposal in H69:
- Two Democratic and two Republican legislative leaders will each submit a list of 10 people affiliated with their party and 3 people not affiliated with either major party.
- The State Auditor (currently Democrat Beth Wood) will create a system to randomly select a total 4 Democrats, 4 Republicans, and 3 unaffiliated individuals from those lists. The unaffiliated members could be members of a minor party.
- The commission will draw district lines for the NC House, NC Senate, and North Carolina’s seats in the US Congressional.
- The commission submits the plan to the General Assembly. The plan is not subject to amendment. If the General Assembly rejects the plan, the commission will submit a second plan. That second submission is also not subject to amendment.
- If the General Assembly rejects the second plan, the commission will submit a third plan. That submission would be subject to amendment, essentially returning the power to draw districts to the legislature.
The bill is entitled “Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission”, implying a quixotic quest of finding 11 people who are very interested in how the General Assembly districts are drawn but who are otherwise disinterested in the political outcomes of those districts. House Speaker Tim Moore noted the impossibility of such a task:
Are we thinking that we’re going to locate folks on this redistricting commission who are knowledgeable and interested in legislative redistricting but don’t have a political agenda? What kind of political science class is that?
Redistricting is an inherently political process, which also means that it is an inherently partisan process. We should be leery of claims that redistricting commissions will produce balanced maps. Even supporters of California’s redistricting commission admit that its maps favored one party over the other in a “nonpartisan” process that turned out to be very partisan.
However, despite the name of the legislation, the commission would be anything but nonpartisan (perhaps “multipartisan” would be a better descriptor). It requires a super majority of at least eight members to approve a map and support from at least two members of each partisan group (Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated). It means that any of the groups have a veto over any proposed maps. It is the acknowledgement of partisanship in H69 that is a potential saving grace for this proposal.