Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Election experts’ $200,000 bill irks some N.C. lawmakers

The latest battle in the redistricting lawsuit is over who should pay the roughly $200,000 bill from the special masters who redrew congressional maps at the court’s request.

The advocacy groups that filed the initial lawsuit say the legislature ought to pay, arguing that its “unconstitutional conduct” created the need for special masters in the first place. Attorneys for lawmakers disagree, saying that because appeals are still active in the case, judges should hold off for now on determining who’s responsible for the cost.

And on Monday, Senate Republicans took issue with the bill itself, issuing a news release that highlighted the $690 hourly rate from the special masters – former Supreme Court justices Bob Orr and Bob Edmunds and former UNC System President Tom Ross. They are also taking issue with them putting the state “on the hook for a $174 tab at Bonefish Grill” and “a $6.80 trip to Cook-Out.”

“It is outrageous that these well-heeled experts are exploiting their positions by charging our taxpayers an exorbitant hourly rate and asking them to pick up their restaurant tab,” Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell and chairman of the Redistricting Committee, said in a news release.

The plaintiffs say they’re nonprofit organizations with “limited resources,” and making them pay the bill for redrawing maps could have a “chilling effect” on future redistricting cases. And they noted that the legislature was forced to pay for special masters in a previous redistricting case.

Regardless of who gets stuck with the tab, the special masters’ itemized invoices offer a detailed look at how the congressional maps were created on a tight deadline. A few of the most interesting takeaways:

  • According to Ross’ invoice, he asked University of California-Irvine political scientist Bernard Grofman to draw three possible maps within days of the deadline. The special masters picked one of those maps, asking Grofman to make final revisions to even out population differences between districts.
  • Grofman was closely assisted by an undergraduate research assistant named Zachary Griggy, who was paid $75 per hour for his work. Grofman’s invoice includes time spent asking one of Griggy’s other professors for a deadline extension on his behalf because he was busy working on North Carolina maps.
  • Another expert, Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute of California, billed $12,075 (at a rate of $450 per hour) to evaluate the remedial maps submitted by parties in the lawsuit, but doesn’t appear to have had any involvement with the maps created by the special masters. The same appears to be true of Sam Wang of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, whose involvement was heavily criticized by Republican lawmakers.
  • The three special masters met over dinner at the Bonefish Grill on Feb. 20, the night before they received the first reports from experts, and then again over lunch the following day. Only Ross billed for additional meals.

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