Thursday, June 20, 2024

No lottery balls this time: Winners, losers and other takeaways from redistricting

The redistricting process for North Carolina’s congressional and legislative maps has looked a lot like the 2019 court-ordered redraw process: Long days of lawmakers and staffers standing around computer screens.

But one key player from 2019 didn’t make an appearance this time: The lottery ball machine. Back then, legislators invited the flashy random number generator used on TV to select nightly winning lotto numbers. 

They wanted to prove the process was fair and impartial, so the lottery machine chose from 1,000 computer-generated district maps. Legislators were in trouble for partisan gerrymandering, and since lottery balls aren’t partial to Republicans or Democrats, it seemed like a good solution.

The lotto numbers weren’t beneficial for Republicans, who went from holding 10 congressional seats in North Carolina in 2018 to eight in 2020. They kept their legislative majorities but couldn’t regain veto-proof supermajorities.

This year  – with control of Congress at stake in 2022 – the GOP doesn’t appear to be leaving it to chance. The official criteria says that partisan data can’t be used in drawing maps, but the options presented by Republicans would likely result in a congressional delegation of nine to 11 Republicans and three to five Democrats. In the legislature, Republicans would likely be able to stay in the majority easily and could potentially regain supermajorities.

Democrats say that isn’t fair in a state where voters are almost evenly divided between the political parties. Republicans counter that their voters are spread more widely across the state, while most Democratic-leaning voters are packed into a few big metro areas.

Here’s the thing: You don’t really need sophisticated data software to draw a district that favors your party. Smart politicians already know which communities vote Republican and which vote Democratic.  

Legislators could take a vote to finalize the maps by the end of the month, but they won’t really be final. Lawsuits are likely to be filed within days of the vote, seeking a judge’s order to redraw the maps, and perhaps delay the December candidate filing period and March primary. 

Opponents of the legislature’s map will likely try their luck in state courts, where judges have been willing recently to block a voter ID constitutional amendment. Democrats currently hold a majority on the state Supreme Court, but that could change with several seats on the ballot next year. 

And if the last decade was any indication, the court battles won’t be over anytime soon.

Here’s a look at some of the other takeaways from the redistricting process so far, and a look at political winners and losers.

The hearings 

The legislature’s Redistricting Committee held several public hearings earlier this week to gather feedback on the proposed maps. The response was overwhelmingly negative: Speakers – many of them from left-leaning groups and local Democratic Party organizations – said the maps were clearly drawn to favor Republicans. They complained that the state’s three largest urban areas were split into multiple districts, and they said they had little time to review the maps in advance.

The maps were posted online a few days ahead of the hearings, and the files contain multiple proposals from both Democrats and Republicans. The authors of the maps aren’t listed, so it’s hard to tell exactly which one will be up for votes later this month. 

The online maps aren’t user friendly either, with hard-to-remember labels like “HBK-11” and “CBK-5.” While some third-party organizations like the Princeton Gerrymandering Project created interactive map files for each proposal, the legislature’s website makes it next to impossible to find your house on the map unless you know your precinct number.

The heaviest attendance at public hearings was in Raleigh. The video feed from remote hearing sites in Caldwell County and Wilmington showed largely empty auditoriums. The first hearing on Monday was over within 75 minutes. 

The winners

-House Speaker Tim Moore: He won’t confirm or deny it, but the rumor for months has been that the four-term House leader wants a seat in Congress. Under nearly every congressional map drawn by Republicans, there is an open, Republican-leaning district centered around his home in Cleveland County.

-U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx: The veteran politician from Watauga County nearly got double-bunked with North Carolina’s best-known Republican congressman, Madison Cawthorn. But mapmakers managed to carve out a tiny sliver of Watauga from Cawthorn’s new district that just so happens to contain Foxx’s home.

-Eastern North Carolina: With a shrinking population in many areas, you might expect declining political clout in this region.But mapmakers drew an open-seat, Republican-leaning district around fast-growing Johnston County outside Raleigh. That makes it likely that there will be four members of Congress representing areas east of Interstate 95. There are now three.

The losers

This year’s maps appear to feature an unusually high number of Republican incumbent legislators paired with fellow incumbents in the same districts. 

Some may have wanted to retire from the House or Senate anyway. Others will face an uncomfortable choice between facing off with a colleague in a primary or general election, or voluntarily stepping aside. A few Democrats are in this position too.

These lawmakers are in the awkward “double bunking” position as the maps are currently drawn:

House: Rep. Julia Howard (R-Davie) and Rep. Lee Zachary (R-Yadkin); Rep. Ed Goodwin (R-Chowan) with Rep. Bobby Hanig (R-Currituck); Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore) with Rep. Ben Moss (R-Richmond); Rep. David Rogers (R-Rutherford) with Rep. Jake Johnson (R-Polk); House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne) with Rep. Raymond Smith (D-Wayne)

Senate: Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) with Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga); Sen. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan) with Sen. Norm Sanderson (R-Pamlico); Sen. Dave Craven (R-Randolph) with Sen. Tom McInnis (R-Richmond, who is changing his residence to Moore County to avoid the double-bunking); Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) with Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell)

The endangered 

Several incumbents will have districts that could prove difficult to win in their new forms, with partisan leanings that favor the other party. 

They are: Sen. Ernestine Bazemore (D-Bertie), Sen. Toby Fitch (D-Wilson), Sen. Lisa Barnes (R-Nash), Sen. Sydney Batch (D-Wake), Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg, who’s double-bunked with a Republican incumbent); Rep. Brian Farkas, (D-Pitt), Rep. John Szoka (R-Cumberland), Rep. Diane Wheatley (R-Cumberland), Rep. Terence Everitt (D-Wake), Rep. Larry Yarborough (R-Person), Rep. Rachel Hunt (D-Mecklenburg), Rep. Raymond Smith (D-Wayne, double-bunked with Rep John Bell, R-Wayne), and Rep. Brian Turner (D-Buncombe).

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