The district map-drawing ball is back in the legislature’s hands, and both the state House and Senate are scrambling to draw new maps under the court’s rules before the clock runs out this Thursday, September 19.
Those rules made for an exceptionally open and publicly transparent process, in which private partisan caucuses and use of partisan data were barred, and no outside consultants could be employed without court approval. The committee meetings during which the maps were amended had to be broadcast live with computer screens showing the maps as amendments were discussed. The process was a marked contrast to business as usual over the past decade.
This open process appeared to enable an unusual level of bipartisan agreement. In the House, 12 of 14 county “cluster” maps were approved without dissent. That cooperation broke down on a cluster of three districts in Columbus, Pender, and Robeson counties. During the subsequent floor debate, the votes for approval of the maps came largely along party lines.
Following a public hearing, the Senate is expected to take floor votes for approval of its maps on Monday. It’s unclear whether the Senate map “clusters” will enjoy a similar degree of bipartisan support at any stage.
Many public-interest observers continue to be skeptical of the map-drawing process and its results, noting that there appear to be partisan biases in the base maps selected as a starting point, and attempts by legislators to use their own partisan self-interest to change boundaries in their favor. As a result, observers expect substantial public opposition to the maps ultimately submitted by the legislature to the court this week.
Last week, the court panel also designated its “referee” who will review the maps and supporting records submitted by the legislature, and will advise the court on recommended actions to adjust those maps to meet the court’s standards. The deadline for subsequent arguments and counter-arguments from parties to the lawsuit in Common Cause v. Lewis is now October 4.
NCLCV is one of a number of advocacy groups supporting the effort to eliminate extreme partisan gerrymandering in legislative districts. More competitive elections provide more opportunity for citizens’ environmental concerns to effectively influence those elected to represent the public.