Map makers can use election data to achieve political goals as they redraw North Carolina’s legislative districts, but they’re forbidden from considering voters’ race under criteria approved Thursday by the House and Senate committees overseeing the process.
These rules also say incumbents can be protected in the new maps, allowing map makers to make “reasonable efforts” to avoid drawing sitting legislators into the same district. The decision disappointed reformers who had hoped to see a less partisan process emerge as the General Assembly complies with a federal court order to replace unconstitutional maps….
Some attention to race is typically required, though, because North Carolina must comply with parts of the federal Voting Rights Act, which is meant to protect minority voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice. It is unclear how new maps will satisfy this point. When asked, Republican leaders repeatedly quoted from a court opinion that not only declared race was the predominant factor in drawing the old maps, but said GOP legislators failed to produce evidence showing they needed to rely on racial data to satisfy VRA requirements.
“The only way to comply … is not to consider race in that process,” Lewis said.
Democrats, and particularly black Democrats, were incredulous.
“Do you understand that, by not using race, you’re defeating your own purpose?” asked Rep.
, D-Durham. “The districts were declared unconstitutional because of race. If you don’t use race to correct it, how are you going to show the court that they’re not still unconstitutional?”Lewis pointed again to the court’s opinion. Smith-Ingram and others asked again: What metrics will show minority voters are treated fairly? Lewis asked to “refocus this conversation on the criteria.”
“We live in the South,” Sen.
, D-Forsyth, said at one point. “When in the South has race not been a factor? Because what I’m hearing doesn’t really add up.”