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News State / Region U.S. Justice Department pre-approves N.C. redistricting maps

The United States Justice Department pre-approved redistricting maps for North Carolina on November 1. The state’s Democratic Party is currently preparing to file a lawsuit to challenge the Obama administration’s decision to approve the maps despite technical gliches. If the challenges are rejected, and the maps are approved, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, and Mitchell Counties, which are solidly Republican counties, will be included in the 11th Congressional district, currently represented by Democratic Congressman Health Shuler.North Carolina Democrats cringed when the United States Justice Department preapproved the redistricting maps on November 1. The decision by the Obama administration will likely give Tar Heel Republicans an electoral advantage for the next decade. The state’s Democratic Party is already preparing to file a lawsuit to challenge the decision, but such a prompt ruling by the Democratic administration poses a significant hurdle to opponents of the GOP drawn lines.

A multitude of lawsuits are on the way, from various groups objecting to the maps. The NAACP and the N.C. League of Women Voters filed simultaneously last Friday. If the challenges are rejected, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, and Mitchell Counties will be included in the 11th Congressional district. This would not bode well for Representative Shuler, as the four counties are solidly Republican; each county voted overwhelmingly in favor of John McCain in 2008 (Burke-59%; Avery-75%; Caldwell-64%; Mitchell-70%).

“Elections have consequences,” said North Carolina Senator Jim Davis. “Because Republicans won the legislature in 2010 we got the responsibility to redistrict the state. It does favor the Republican Party, but this is nothing new. There is nothing nefarious about what we have done. But in redrawing the maps we had to follow the United States Constitution and our state’s constitution,” continued Davis. “I think that’s important and I think we have done that. The lines comply with the Voting Rights Act and other laws, including our state constitution, and after we work out a few glitches we should be able to present the final product. The fact that a Democratic administration approved of the maps in such a short amount of time is a testimony to the hard work of the redistricting committee.”

Davis represents district 50 in the state Senate, comprised of the Western North Carolina counties. Should the maps stand up against pending lawsuits, all of Haywood County will be included in the district, while Transylvania County will be eliminated from district 50 entirely.

Representative Phil Haire’s office, who serves North Carolina House district 119, did not comment on the new redistricting maps, believing that future lawsuits against the new lines will make any prediction about the make-up of district 119 futile.

Some Democratic activists charge that the new lines are unwarranted. “Make no mistake about it, this Republican redistricting plan will re-segregate North Carolina,” said David Parker, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic party. “The Republican maps pack minorities so heavily into so few districts that they split counties, precincts and communities all across North Carolina. The shapes of the resulting districts make a mockery of the redistricting process and the Republicans should be ashamed of themselves,” concluded Parker.

Despite the disdain of Parker and other state Democrats, federal officials believe the maps are in compliance with the Voting Rights Act legislation passed in 1965 which aimed to end discriminatory voting practices. “Justice’s responsibility is to make sure minority voters are protected under the Voting Rights Act,” said Senator Bob Rucho, chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee. “They validated the fact that minority voters are protected under our fair and legal maps,” he said after the U.S. Justice Department pre-approved the maps early last week.

Nevertheless, some flaws in the way the redistricting maps were drawn could give credence to Democratic lawsuits. In fact, the General Assembly admitted that mistakes were made in redrawing the lines, as more than 220 areas of the state were left out of the new districts. State Republicans claim the issue is simply a minor technicality that they easily amended by passing five bills last Monday. Yet, some Democrats argue the maps illegally split precincts in 49 counties, violating the state’s constitution which prevents legislators from dividing counties during the redistricting process.

The five bills that passed the legislature last Monday remedied the errors that emanated from a computer glitch in the system, according to North Carolina Senator Jim Davis. Democrats maintain that the glitch, which left over 200,000 people without a state Senate and House representative, reveals the unconstitutionality of the new maps. “When the Democrats submitted their proposals this year, their plan had the same glitch errors,” said Senator Jim Davis.

State Republican legislators in charge of redrawing the districts stated that the U.S. Justice Department was informed of the glitch before pre-clearing the maps.

United States Senator Kay Hagan concurs with the state’s Democratic leaders in opposing the maps. “The courts will now review the truly troubling aspects of the General Assembly’s redistricting plans,” said Hagan. “The General Assembly may be entitled to consider its narrow partisan goals when redrawing the North Carolina House, the North Carolina Senate, and the U.S. Congressional District maps, but not at the expense of North Carolina moderation and common sense,” said Senator Kay Hagan in a press release.

“Extreme precinct-splitting makes no sense in drawing the state’s House and Senate districts and extreme county-reconfiguring makes no sense in drawing the state’s U.S. Congressional districts. It is little wonder that thousand of North Carolina voters were left off of the maps entirely,” said Hagan.

Legal battles over Democratic gerrymandering will have precedence as the courts begin to decipher legal arguments over the new districts. The U.S. Justice Department has actually rejected submitted plans eight times since 1981. Lawsuits over Democratic redistricting delayed N.C. elections in 1998 and 2002, a scenario that could repeat in 2012 and lead to more headaches for state lawmakers before next year’s elections.


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