NCLCV Sues Over Gerrymandered Maps

NCLCV Sues North Carolina Legislators Over Gerrymandered Maps, Proposes New Ones

The General Assembly’s politically and racially rigged congressional and legislative maps prevent voters of color and environmental advocates from electing leaders who reflect their values and communities

Plaintiffs also want primary and candidate filing delayed, and give the court ready-made computer-drawn maps that comply with the state constitution

RALEIGH, N.C.— Today in Wake County Superior Court, the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters (NCLCV) filed a lawsuit to stop the state from holding elections using the General Assembly’s recently enacted congressional and legislative maps. Joining them as plaintiffs are 15 North Carolina voters, including legendary former legislator and civil rights activist Mickey Michaux.

The suit claims unconstitutional partisan and racial gerrymandering across North Carolina, in violation of the state constitution’s free elections clause, equal protection clause, and free speech and free assembly clauses. It also alleges the state House and Senate maps violate the constitution’s whole-county provisions by making deliberate county grouping choices and excessive county traversals to maximize partisan advantage. Additionally, the suit notes that racially polarized voting very much still exists in both general and primary elections, and legislators were wrong to claim they could draw lawful maps while ignoring racial data.

As part of their prayer for relief, the plaintiffs propose optimized remedial maps that should be used if legislators do not resolve the enacted maps’ constitutional defects within two weeks of the court ruling in plaintiffs’ favor. Rather than politicians choosing their voters by hand, computer algorithms produced the optimized maps using criteria that comply with neutral redistricting principles and state law. Several of the plaintiffs are professors of math, statistics, and computer science.

Across the board, the remedial maps are more compact than legislators’ enacted maps, divide fewer municipalities, traverse fewer counties, give voters of color more opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, and will produce legislative delegations that are far more reflective of the state’s partisan balance.

The plaintiffs also suggest the court push the 2022 primary and candidate filing period back, noting no other state but Texas has a primary scheduled earlier than next May. 

The full lawsuit, including proposed remedial maps, can be found here.

“A healthy environment requires a healthy democracy where every voter has the equal freedom to elect lawmakers who share their values and who reflect their communities,” said Elizabeth Redenbaugh, President of NCLCV’s Board of Directors. “Voters deserve a Congress and General Assembly that are accountable to them and that will protect their rights to clean air, clean water, and clean energy. For over 50 years, we have worked to make that happen.”

Redenbaugh continued, “Unfortunately, the unconstitutionally elected legislative majority spent the last decade usurping power from the people and taking our state in the wrong direction, and both state and federal courts repeatedly shot them down for it. Now they’re once again rigging the maps to deny North Carolinians these fundamental rights and to keep themselves in power despite voters’ wishes. So we’re taking them to court to seek justice for voters who are tired of politicians favoring polluters over people — especially people of color who those polluters and politicians have disproportionately victimized time and again.”

NCLCV has thousands of members across every county and every one of the newly enacted congressional, state Senate, and state House districts. The suit claims they “will have their votes systematically diluted by the 2021 Enacted Plans on the basis of party, race, or both.” Those maps “frustrate [NCLCV members’] ability to express their preferences for sound environmental policy at the ballot box and before their legislators.”

That’s because the enacted maps favor the majority party to such an extreme extent that voters’ natural geographic sorting does not come close to explaining it. Expert analysis of likely election outcomes in the new districts suggests the majority party would win at least nine of 14 congressional seats, at least 28 of 50 state Senate seats, and at least 68 of 120 state House seats even if there is a tied aggregate vote for those seats. Indeed, it would likely take a statewide win by at least seven points for the minority party to have a chance to elect a majority of the seats in any of those chambers — something that never happens in a state as 50-50 as North Carolina. Further, to accomplish this, these maps purposefully crack Black communities across the state in ways that deny them the chance to nominate and elect their preferred candidates.

By contrast, in a 50-50 statewide vote under the optimized maps, the minority party would likely elect six to eight members of the 14-seat congressional delegation, 22 to 27 of the 50 state senators, and 56 to 60 of the 120 state representatives — in other words, competitive elections in which the majority would be up for grabs in any given election. Unlike the enacted maps, the algorithm accomplished this without any human bias or subversion of neutral criteria for partisan gain. These districts are more compact than the enacted ones; split 15 fewer municipalities in the congressional plan, 14 fewer in the Senate plan, and 41 fewer in the House; and create four Black opportunity congressional districts (versus the enacted plan’s two), 13 such Senate districts (versus 10), and 36 such House districts (versus 31). The optimized Senate plan has eight fewer county traversals than the enacted plan, and the House plan has three fewer.

The firms Jenner & Block and Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson are representing plaintiffs in this case.

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