RALEIGH – The N.C. Senate passed the newly drawn congressional district maps Thursday afternoon 32-15, sending it to the House for approval. The debate and map creation kept the capital humming as lawmakers waited for word whether the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay on the federal judges’ decision last week that the existing maps were unconstitutional and had to be redrawn by Feb. 19. The passage follows a day of special sessions and redistricting committee hearings for both chambers.
Gov. Pat McCrory called the General Assembly in for a special session earlier this week ahead of the Friday deadline as a backup in case the U.S. Supreme Court does not grant a stay. Last week, a three-judge panel ruled that race was a dominant factor when the state’s 13 districts were drawn in 2011. In response, lawmakers requested a stay on the decision until after November 2016, and filed an appeal.
A bipartisan Redistricting Committee convened last week headed by Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) and Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett). The minority party was allocated $25,000 and use of the digital tool “Maptitude” that the Redistricting Committee used to reconfigure the district lines. As the discussions got underway the minority party did not use the resources or produce its own map, but members did voice concerns over the committee’s results.
“This map is clearing an act of racial and partisan packing,” said Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) on the floor of the senate. “You talk about not disenfranchising African Americans, yet in the new maps you place Alma Adams in a new district 13, with only 21 percent African Americans. That makes it virtually impossible to elect another African American; another Democrat, but also another African American.”
The Senate says the reconfigured maps comply with the judges’ concerns, and take into account the public comments made in Mondays public hearings across the state. Still, they maintain that the current maps are constitutional, following the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.
“While we wish North Carolina voters didn’t have to deal with the chaos, costliness and uncertainty associated with an eleventh-hour ruling changing the current primary election, we are pleased the Senate was able to pass a fair, legal and compact Congressional map that harmonizes traditional redistricting principles,” Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said in a statement. “This is the least gerrymandered and most compact congressional map that North Carolina has seen in decades, and we believe it should address the federal trial court’s concerns by its tight deadline.”
Meanwhile, the House is debating a bill that would redraw the election timeline, including pushing the primary election back into the summer. They argue that the reconfigured congressional districts would unfairly disrupt the election scheduled for March 15.
More than 20,000 absentee ballots have been mailed out and more than 2,000 returned, according to the State Board of Elections.