Updated Sept. 17, 2019, with new developments.
North Carolina’s new political maps gained final approval from both the N.C. House and Senate on Tuesday. Nearly all Republicans supported them, and Democrats were split.
The maps can’t be vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper — the state constitution specifically forbids it — but they aren’t necessarily the final word. A panel of judges still gets to weigh in on the maps, which will happen over the coming days, and could potentially order them redrawn yet again.
During a vote Monday night, Republican Sen. Ralph Hise said he thinks the maps meet all the court’s criteria.
“We have drawn these maps without any consideration of partisan data,” Hise, the top Senate redistricting official, told his colleagues Monday. “We have drawn this map without any consideration of racial data.”
The final decision will be up to the same three judges who earlier this month ruled North Carolina’s current legislative maps to be unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders that were drawn in order to disenfranchise Democratic voters and give Republicans outsize influence.
The judges ordered the legislature to redraw a number of House and Senate districts, ignoring any political data or considerations, and to do so under the strictest rules for transparency North Carolina has ever seen in a redistricting process. That meant, for the first time, the public could see the inner workings of something that normally happens behind closed doors.
The legislature broadcast all its meetings live over the internet. They also live-streamed the screens of the individual computers lawmakers and staffers were using to draw the maps, so people could follow each motion of the cursor on the screen if they wanted. Hundreds of people submitted written comments, and several dozen came to Raleigh for a public hearing Monday afternoon.
“These are the fairest maps, and this was the fairest process, in North Carolina in my lifetime,” Charlotte Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson said of the Senate maps.
Jackson, however, still voted against the maps. He said he opposes any political maps drawn by politicians, and “independent redistricting would look just like the process we just went through, except it wouldn’t be politicians doing it.”
Unlike Jackson, though, most Senate Democrats voted for the maps of their chamber after Raleigh Sen. Dan Blue, the top Democrat, vouched for them. Blue, a former N.C. speaker of the House, has been involved in numerous redistricting efforts in past decades in North Carolina and was in the thick of this one as well.
“I think it was a remarkable experience, especially when you consider the current political climate,” he said.
Only eight of the 21 Democratic senators voted against the Senate maps.
The process was more contentious in the House, however, where there was no such bipartisan agreement when they first passed their maps last Friday.
Most of the maps the House produced were uncontroversial. However, Democrats said they were voting against the whole process due to concerns over a lack of public hearings before the vote, as well as concerns that a group of districts in southeastern North Carolina, along the South Carolina border, had been drawn with political considerations in mind.
“You don’t have to be very astute to know what we are doing in this bill is partisan gerrymandering in the benefit of a member,” Democratic Rep. Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville said Friday before voting against the maps.
Republicans denied that, however and they had enough votes to pass the maps over the Democratic objections.
Current and former officials from one of the southeastern counties in question, Columbus County, came to Monday’s public hearing to oppose the new maps. However, those comments did not lead to any changes in the map.
Republicans and Democrats have rarely agreed on high-profile issues recently, culminating in a controversial budget veto override in the House last week that made national headlines. But talking about the Senate maps specifically, Jackson said he wanted to credit his Senate Republican colleagues for the way the redistricting process played out.
“You did appear to me to be acting in good faith,” Jackson said. “And that’s remarkable in North Carolina, and you deserve recognition for that.”
Two Democrats on the redistricting committee, where the map-making work happened, alluded to attempts by politicians to rig the new districts that they said they caught and shot down.
“I believe we shut down attempts to re-gerrymander districts,” said Charlotte Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus.
Marcus voted for the Senate maps. But she later voted against the maps the House put forward.
“I know gerrymandering when I see it and I see it in these proposed House maps,” Marcus said in a tweet Tuesday.
“The court’s ruling against partisan gerrymandering was a historic victory for the people of North Carolina, setting a clear requirement for drawing districts completely free from partisan politics and with total transparency,” Brent Laurenz, deputy director of Common Cause NC, which helped challenge the old maps, said in a statement. “We look forward to the next steps in this ongoing remedial process, which includes the court thoroughly reviewing the new districts to ensure that they fully comply with the ruling.”