Harmony in the House, discord in the Senate as North Carolina lawmakers approve new district maps

The good news is that North Carolina General Assembly lawmakers will meet a deadline set by the court on Friday to submit replacement maps of Congress and state legislative districts for judicial review. The bad news is that there is still plenty of partisan rancor surrounding the redistricting process, at least in the state Senate.

A new map of the State House district emerged from this chamber on Wednesday with near unanimity. However, the two maps drawn up by the Republican majority in the Senate had a much more difficult course until the passage on Thursday. The state senate district map and a plan of the congressional district ran through both chambers along party votes.

Two weeks ago, a state Supreme Court majority struck down district maps for being unconstitutionally manipulated with extreme partisan bias by the Republican majority in the legislature. The court found the cards were designed to lock in GOP dominance for the next decade despite the partisan balance across the state.

Lawmakers did ‘exactly’ what court told them to do, GOP leader says

Legislators had to scramble to produce maps using analytical tools like mean-median difference and efficiency gap scores to create electoral districts that would be more competitive and responsive to changing demographics and changes. voter tendencies.

‘We did exactly what the court told us to do,’ Senate Speaker Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) told reporters on Thursday after his chamber passed the corrective maps of Congress and the districts. of the Senate along party lines.

Earlier Thursday, at a meeting of the Senate redistricting committee, Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Avery, Burke, Caldwell) told colleagues the new map of Congress was drawn to comply with the order of the Supreme Court.

“It contains what we believe are four of the most competitive congressional districts in the country,” Daniel added. He claimed the map created six safe districts for the GOP, four safe districts for the Democrats, and four ready districts.

The canceled US House district map would have provided Republicans with at least 10 of the state’s 14 congressional seats, even though the 2020 Democratic congressional candidates won, according to expert analysis. more votes than Republicans.

Democrats say Republicans are still gerrymandering maps

But Democrats like Sen. Ben Clark (Cumberland, Hoke) dispute the GOP’s assessment of the proposed corrective maps.

Clark criticized the corrective map drawn by Republicans for dividing precincts — otherwise known as voter tabulation districts, or VTDs — as well as counties too often. In August, lawmakers adopted criteria for the redistricting process and pledged to avoid splitting counties and VTDs unless necessary to comply with population equality requirements.

But Clark noted that in the corrective map from Congress, GOP lawmakers split the VTDs 15 times while he had an alternate map that only splits the VTDs 13 times. Clark also noted that he had drawn up an alternate map that would divide fewer counties than the GOP’s corrective map.

The Republican majority used a parliamentary procedure Thursday to crush any discussion or debate on the amendments by Clark and other Democrats, forcing an up or down vote on the GOP replacement map.

“What we have is, essentially, a doorway to a gerrymander,” Clark said of Republicans’ congressional corrective map.

“Voters who are going to vote do so because they want to feel like their votes have meaning,” Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) said during Thursday’s debate on the Senate District Map of the United States. Corrective state. “Unfortunately, the cards in front of us still [diminish] the will of our people.”

One example Chaudhuri cited was how a predominantly Democratic area of ​​northern Wake County is carved up and joined to the more conservative Granville County to form Senate District 18.

Top Republican blames Democrats for communications breakdown

But Senate Speaker Pro Tem Phil Berger said it was Democrats who were unwilling to compromise in the corrective redistricting process. He told reporters on Thursday that Republicans had gone so far as to set aside a room for lawmakers from both parties to discuss districts the High Court had deemed problematic.

Berger argued that the Democrats never engaged in dialogue but instead presented their own ultimatums aimed at giving them more power.

“So I think it’s a bit dishonest of the Democrats to say there was no negotiation and there was no collaboration,” Berger said. “We tried to do that and so I’m very disappointed with how it’s been characterized.”

In a press release, Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue praised bipartisanship on the House side, if only to highlight the divisiveness in his chamber.

“I applaud the House leadership’s commitment to compromise on the House map,” Blue said in the statement. and offers opportunities for growth over the next decade.”

Blue also acknowledged some efforts by Senate Republicans to reach out to Democrats, but questioned their sincerity.

“While Senate Republicans offered us a last-minute compromise in Wake, New Hanover, and Mecklenburg counties, their overall strategy was simple: prevent Senate Democrats from winning more than 21 seats over the next decade. “, Blue said.

Now, the maps are going to a trial court panel to assess the reorganization plans’ compliance with the state Constitution and redistricting standards established by the state Supreme Court in its ruling. The trial court appointed three former North Carolina lawyers as special masters to assist in the review process.

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