S3E36A: NC keeps delivering gerrymandering for Dems

We’ve spent some time on this blog discussing gerrymandering. 

Back when Common Cause v Lewis wasn’t being talked about until the verdict was final, we highlighted it here. Then when the verdict came down, we did a special blog post. 

We also talked about the importance of gerrymandering for Republican dominance going forward.

Republicans cannot have a pesky thing like easy voting get in the way of their attempts to remake the courts, federal and local congressional maps nationwide. In my opinion it is another arrow in the quiver of voter suppression tactics.

What gerrymandering is and how it affects elections was best illustrated in American Swamp episode we showed here:

North Carolina: a history of gerrymandering maps

In that American Swap episode, they targeted the preposterous gerrymandering in North Carolina.  The gerrymandering in the state caused the nation’s most outrageously drawn maps. They were so bad that depending on which side of the street you were standing, two people, feet apart, could literally be in two different districts.

The district lines were drawn that way, not due to a fluke, but in order to “crack”, or split and dilute, the democratic majority.  And sure enough, the reliably solid democratic district went Republican.

The people of North Carolina’s HBCU was out raged.  Common Cause representing a number of different interests, including the democratic party, was outraged and so, fortunately, were the state courts. 

In Common Cause v Lewis. The Court decided the maps drawn by the Republican legislature needed to be redrawn and it needed to be redrawn quickly.

New Maps Drawn

So North Carolina’s republican and democratic legislators went about drawing the maps.  And those maps then needed to be approved by the same court.  The Court was handed the redrawn maps. 

On Monday the Court approved the new maps.

In the Common Cause v. Lewis ruling, the panel stated that lawmakers’ remedial process comported with their court order requiring they use certain redistricting criteria, not use partisan data and conduct redistricting in full public view.

The plaintiffs had objected to only five county-groupings in the House map, but the judges were satisfied with each, so they did not order that any be redrawn by the referee, Stanford Law Professor Nathaniel Persily.

The Court goes further

In a case filed around the time of Common Cause, Harper v Lewis, plaintiffs were asking for a redrawing of the congressional maps state wide.

On Monday, after accepting the new map, the Court agreed with plaintiffs ordering new maps for the 2020 election.

“Quite notably in this case, the 2016 congressional districts have already been the subject of years-long litigation in federal court arising from challenges to the districts on partisan gerrymandering grounds,” the order states. “As such, there is a detailed record of both the partisan intent and the intended partisan effects of the 2016 congressional districts drawn with the aid of Dr. Thomas Hofeller and enacted by the General Assembly.”

The judges noted in the order that the loss to the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights will “undoubtedly” be irreparable if congressional elections are allowed to proceed under the 2016 plan.

The legislative defendants in the case argued to the court that they too would suffer harm if the court issued an injunction, but the panel said voters’ rights were more important.

But the Court did allow for plaintiffs to file for summary judgement if they wanted. And the Court was willing to fast track the process acknowledging the Court:

…does not presume to have any authority to compel lawmakers to draw new districts at such an early stage of litigation, but it noted that the General Assembly recently showed it has the capacity to enact new districts in a short amount of time “in a transparent and bipartisan manner.”

If lawmakers don’t move on their own, the court noted it can move the primary date for the congressional elections or all of the state’s 2020 primaries, including for offices other than congressional representatives.

Are the new maps better?

There has been some consternation about the new maps.  Democrats and interested parties like Common Cause still believe it is possible for Republicans to win more seats than a 50/50 split would offer.

During the drawing process websites like Princeton Gerrymandering Project saw issues with the map saying:

…we have noticed algorithmic biases in the process used to generate the remedial map. Using the PlanScore.org engine and additional analysis, we furthermore find that the map still contains between one-half and two-thirds of the partisan advantage that was present in the illegal gerrymander.

The Charlotte Observer’s editorial board wrote:

Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Democrat from Charlotte, said that although he was generally satisfied with the maps his chamber produced, he’ll vote against them. “These are the fairest maps, and this was the fairest process, in North Carolina in my lifetime,” Jackson said. But, he said: “Independent redistricting would look just like the process we just went through, except it wouldn’t be politicians doing it.”

And up to the last minute reports were:

At least two North Carolina lawmakers had access to political data during the recent redistricting process, despite a court order banning its use, according to a new legal filing in Wake County Superior Court.

The News & Observer reported last month that an outside attorney for Republican lawmakers emailed prohibited political data to numerous N.C. House lawmakers and staffers on the first day of court-ordered redistricting.

But Republicans said Friday that there’s no proof anyone looked at that data, “or even knew how to locate or use the political information buried somewhere within” the emailed data.

Staffers for Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison and Republican Rep. John Torbett both downloaded the data from the General Assembly, the GOP brief says, but adds it’s possible they never looked at it.

As to what’s at stake for republicans, according to the Washington Post:

The state’s House delegation is made up of 10 Republicans and three Democrats, splitting Democratic strongholds in some parts of the state while packing as many Democratic voters as possible into other districts.

Drawing new House districts could spell more difficulty for either Rep. Mark Meadows or Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, Republicans who split voters in Asheville, a rapidly growing left-leaning city in the western region of the state. It could also shake up the districts surrounding the state’s high-growth urban regions.