NASHVILLE, TN –North Carolina’s state assembly is holding public hearings getting ready to draw new election district boundaries. The meetings are not well publicized, mostly held during working hours, and no hearings are scheduled to get public input after the lines are drawn by the Republican majority in both the senate (28-22) and the house (69-51).
It is next to impossible for people of color and rural residents to weigh in on the process. There have been no live broadcast hearings. Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, does not have veto power over redistricting maps. The GOP has controlled both senate and the house since 2010.
“We do not get to a voting process that truly matters without first making sure we’ve ensured an accurate census count and fair maps that are representative,” said Kyle Hamilton Brazile, Director of Civic Engagement for the NC Counts Coalition.
Brazile said that communities of shared interests, values, and backgrounds should be gathered and fair maps drawn so those communities can pick their political representatives. Gerrymandering is drawing district lines so just the opposite happens: powerful politicians pick their voters to make sure they get re-elected.
Currently holding the state’s 12th Congressional seat is Alma Adams. She won with 88.1% of the vote, Adams, like former Tennessee State Senator Thelma Harper, has a fondness for hats. She represents a district that has been “packed” with African Americans.
North Carolina was gerrymandered so Adams won easily but unfortunately she only holds one seat. Fairly drawn boundaries could have elected three more Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives from North Carolina. Instead, in 2010 North Carolina’s congressional delegation flipped from 7-6 Democrat to 9-4 Republican.
Brazile said that when district maps were drawn in 2010, they were racially gerrymandered “with surgical precision”. Advocates sued over some of the maps drawn by the legislature.
“The famous 12th District which at a time stretched all the way from Mecklenburg County to near Durham…was a district that was 64% African American majority population and it was so narrow at some points that it was no wider than a highway lane.
Another example is when the largest HBCU in the state, North Carolina A&T University, had its campus cracked and split in half so that the college vote would be diluted and not be as powerful,” Brazile said.
In 2017, the Supreme Court held North Carolina Districts 1 and 12 violated the constitution because they were drawn to concentrate Blacks. But in a subsequent case, Rucho v. Common Cause, the Supremes decided drawing maps based on partisan rather than racial lines, was okay.
The Supreme Court let stand the maps for GOP-leaning districts in North Carolina and Democratic-leaning ones in Maryland.
As you can see from the NC Congressional District table only two districts are close having the same number of people. They should all be around 745,671 persons per district, based on 2020 census numbers. Having every Congressperson represent the same number of constituents is the fundamental principle of the U.S. House of Representatives described in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution.
When communities of color are divided so their political power is deliberately diminished, that is unfair and illegal. When their power in aggregate is diminished by gerrymandering so they get fewer representatives than they should, that is also unfair. And should be illegal. But it’s not in North Carolina.
Given that all districts will have roughly the same number of people, then they should get an equal share of about $50 billion in federal dollars that will flow to North Carolina. But politicians decide where that money will go and how much gets spent and for what.
Advocates for North Carolina’s growing multi-ethnic population want more money spent on education and healthcare. They want better public transportation. They want broadband in rural areas. They won’t get them unless election districts are drawn fairly, so their representatives can disburse public funds for those things.
“We are worried in North Carolina that given the nature of the legislature, given the lack of transparency of this process, that is indicative of the wider issues we are seeing across the state,” Brazile said.
“North Carolina uses our policy of preemption to make sure counties and cities in groups are unable to do anything,” said Robert Dawkins, political director of Action NC.
“When you have a city or a county that is trying to redistrict itself we are always at fear that the General Assembly will just step in and say ‘it’s great that you’re trying to be fair but we don’t want to be fair and we aren’t going to let you redistrict yourselves,” Dawkins said.
Dawkins lives in Charlotte, a city of 874,579. It is the most populous city in the state, the county seat of Mecklenberg County, population 1.2 million. He said there are only three redistricting public hearings scheduled in the 350 square miles of Mecklenberg County. They are held at 3PM in the afternoon on weekdays. “It is impossible. That’s impossible to be fair,” he said.
Charlotte has a majority Black-led city council and an African American police chief.
“Black people make up almost every position of power so we’re not talking about just a black or a white issue here in Mecklenberg County,” he said.
Dawkins said the legislature wants to control the redistricting process by making sure only a few stakeholders–mostly white and mostly Republican–participate in it.
“We want to make sure if the city gets counted, that we’re able to form coalition districts throughout the city and throughout the county so the LatinX and the SE Asian Community and other burgeoning communities will have a say, will have a voice in this process. And the General Assembly does not want to see coalition districts form. They would like to see it stay the same way it is, where it is mostly White and mostly Black…and the only way we are going to be able to do this is if we’re able to have a fair process where people are able to show up.”