22 July 2011
Special from The Charlotte Post (NNPA) – The 2012 elections are over a year away, but the fight for political power in terms of electoral maps is already beginning to take shape. In North Carolina, race is overshadowing the debate on where to draw district lines. Each electoral map is being re-drawn based on the 2010 census results. North Carolina’s population grew 18.5 percent between 2000 and 2010 to more than 9.5 million residents.
For the first time in more than a century, Republicans control both sides of the N.C. General Assembly, which is responsible for redistricting. On July 1, State Senator Bob Rucho, chair of the Senate redistricting committee, and State Rep. David Lewis, Rucho’s House counterpart, released a draft map.
Forty of the state’s 100 counties are subject to the Voting Rights Act and court cases decided under it, which forbid drawing districts that dilute minority voting strength. This means avoiding “retrogression” or worsening the position of racial minorities with respect to the exercise of their voting rights. The redistricting plans are subject to lawsuits if considerations of race impermissibly dominate the redistricting process. This may occur when traditional redistricting principles such as compactness, contiguity, or respect for political subdivisions or communities of interest are substantially ignored.
Currently, congressional Democrats have a 7-6 advantage. But according to John Davis, a consultant and political analyst of North Carolina politics, four incumbent Democratic House members – Heath Shuler, Larry Kissell, Mike McIntyre and Brad Miller – are poised to run in districts with fewer Democrats in 2012. If Republicans sweep those seats, the advantage would shift 10-3 to Republicans.
The Rucho-Lewis map also dispelled the rumor that lawmakers would opt to create a third majority-minority district.
Michael Cobb, an N.C. State University political science professor, said that one reason Republicans probably didn’t create a third majority-minority district is that it would be ruled unconstitutional under the Voting Rights Act.
“But at the same time they seem to have been doing exactly what I think will be ruled unconstitutional at the state level,” he said. “They have created a number of House and Senate districts that are not compact, not contiguous for populations.
“What I saw in state lines is that they were clearly drawing this based on race and the districts were bizarre. I can’t understand how they would not be ruled unconstitutional if they continue with those plans. They’re less likely to receive scrutiny with the state plan than the congressional district. That’s probably why they’re hacking off there.”
U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican from Cherryville, told Politico.com last May that Republicans would draw lines that add another Black member to the congressional delegation while making it difficult for white Democrats to win.
Cobb said McHenry’s prediction has come true in a way. “The Republicans are trying to pack Democrats into fewer districts so the rest of the districts are more Republican so it’s a disingenuous ploy to say it’s trying to help Black voters in the spirit of the Voting Rights Act because that’s clearly not what McHenry has in mind,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat who represents the 12th Congressional District, said Republicans’ desire to gain partisan advantage has led them to violate “both the letter and spirit of the Voting Rights Act.”
“It represents a disappointing effort by the Republicans to dilute and minimize political influence of African-American voters in the Piedmont by packing all of them into the 12th District so none of them have influence in adjoining districts,” he said in a statement. “It also represents a sinister Republican effort to use African Americans as pawns in their effort to gain partisan, political gains in Congress.”
Irving Joyner, a N.C. Central University professor and state NAACP Legal redress chair, agrees. “If enacted, this Republican plan will bleach all of the color out of the districts from which they seek to elect their members,” he said in an email. “My reading of court decisions, which interpret the Voting Rights Acts, says that this map is illegal.”
He continued: “What the Republicans are attempting to do is an abuse of power and, if successful, will create a ‘separate and unequal’ political landscape in which minorities will be allowed to sit in the room with political decision-makers, but will not be at the table with positions of power and influence. The districts in which African-Americans will be stacked and packed are the 1st (G.K. Butterfield), 4th (David Price) and 12th (Watt). Once this map is enacted, it is going to end up in litigation. The Republicans already plan to seek pre-clearance of the districts from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Once that occurs, a motion to intervene will likely be filed on behalf of several civil rights organizations.”
Rucho said lawmakers plan to send the final maps to both the courts and the justice department for approval around Aug. 1.
“We’re trying to follow the letter of the law with the Voting Rights Act and draw fair and legal districts, where voters will have a chance to choose a candidate of their choice,” he said. “People who are claiming packing or claiming racial gerrymandering they are not reading the law the way it is written.”
Davis added: “I really don’t think there’s a violation of the Voting Rights Act. I go back to the people that were a part of the inner circle of this, the first opportunity for Republicans to do this in over 100 years. Those are smart attorneys who know their worst nightmare is for that issue to be litigated successfully, so I believe they would have gone out of their way to make sure there were no voting rights violations.”
Republican lawmakers drew this proposed map of North Carolina's 13 congressional districts. Democrats and civil rights advocates say the districts, which could give the GOP control of as many as 10 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, dilute the influence of minority voters.