North Carolina Republicans have once again tasked veteran mapmaker Thomas Hofeller with redrawing the district maps for electing the General Assembly. It was Hofeller’s 2011 plans that were rejected unanimously by the Supreme Court after they ruled that 28 districts had been unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered, but that didn’t stop the state’s House and Senate from approving his new maps Friday.
Every ten years, lawmakers across the nation redraw the lines of state and congressional districts to reflect shifts in population. Political parties often take advantage of the opportunity to shape the boundaries in ways that maximize their voters and suppress those of their opponents. Gerrymandering – the redrawing of district lines to benefit the party in power – is a common practice. It can be done through one of two methods. Cracking dilutes the voting power of the opposition by spreading their supporters across many districts. Packing works exactly the opposite; by concentrating the opposing party’s voting power in one region, that vote is suppressed in others.
While this sort of gerrymandering occurs often, it’s not generally well received when it specifically hinders a single race, religion, etc. The Supreme Court’s issue with the 2011 maps was that there appeared to be gerrymandered lines in 19 House and nine Senate areas that weakened the influence of black voters.
Despite their approval Friday, Harnett County Republican Representative David Lewis told The News & Observer that he wouldn’t be surprised if the maps weren’t ratified until the day before the September 1 deadline. There’s more to the process than a just a single vote:
There are more votes scheduled for next week. Each chamber must approve a set of maps that will then be sent to the panel of judges who ordered new district lines after finding 28 unconstitutional gerrymanders in the districts used for the past three election cycles.
Mr. Hofeller drew the Republican maps, which Democrats countered with their own suggestions, and both sides hurled accusations of gerrymandering at each other. In truth, both parties seemed to have drawn the lines to their benefit whenever possible. In the face of current complaints, Republicans justified their actions by pointing out that the Democrats did it for decades before the GOP took over the General Assembly in 2010.
Legislators from both sides have called for either a person or organization independent from either party to take over redistricting, which may be the only way to see a genuinely nonpartisan district map. However, Republicans currently hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate and so most of the proposed districts lean right. So long as they can avoid accusations of racial gerrymandering, it’s likely the GOP maps will stand.