North Carolina Democratic lawmakers are up in arms over proposed redistricting changes revealed by state Republicans last week.
Proposals to redraw district lines are always contentious since they alter the political prospects of incumbents. But this time, Democratic lawmakers are raising objections based on not only electoral politics but also on race.
Rep. Mel Watt (D-12th District) slammed the Congressional redistricting map proposed by Republicans, saying they “have gone out of their way to pack African American voters into the 12th District.”
If implemented, the percentage of voting age African Americans in the 12th District would rise from 43 to 49 percent, diluting the electoral influence of African Americans in five neighboring districts.
This, Watt charges, violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was designed to protect the vote of minorities.
“It also represents a sinister Republican effort to use African Americans as pawns in their effort to gain partisan, political gains in Congress,” Watts said in a statement.
North Carolina’s controversy over redistricting comes in the wake of suspicions that Republican legislatures and governors nationwide are revising voting laws to make it harder for groups that tend to vote Democratic — such as the young, low-income, and African-American — to vote.
The issue is likely to go court in a state that has seen more courtroom battles over voting districts than almost any other, especially throughout the 1990s. The 12th Congressional District, in particular, has been the subject of four cases that landed in the Supreme Court.
The proposed map would also split certain counties between districts and redraw district lines so that some Democratic and swing districts are effectively re-aligned into Republican-leaning ones.
As a result, at least three Democratic lawmakers — Reps. Larry Kissell in the 8th District, Heath Shuler in the 11th and Brad Miller in the 13th — would find their chances of re-election slim, threatening the 7-6 Democratic lead in the state’s delegation.
“Under the new congressional districts released today, the partisan advantage will immediately shift from 7 Democrats and 6 Republican to 8 Republican and only 3 guaranteed Democratic districts, with 2 that will depend on the strengths of the candidates and the prevailing partisan winds of the given election year,” according to John Davis, author of the John Davis Report and an NC political consultant.
“We believe that our proposed Congressional plan fully complies with applicable federal and state law,” redistricting chairmen Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Matthew) and Rep. David Lewis (R-Dunn) said in a statement, “We also believe that a majority of North Carolinians will agree that our proposed plan will establish Congressional districts that are fair to North Carolina voters.”
NC lawmakers will vote on the districting plan later in July. Governor Bev Purdue (D-NC) will not be able to veto any redistricting maps.
Changes to districting maps usually get clearance by the Justice Department or a federal court. Usually, the process involves getting some sort of approval from the Justice Department before sending the matter to courts.
But NC Republican lawmakers are planning to seek approval primarily from the courts, out of a fear that the Justice Department won’t approve.
According to the Charlotte Observer, Rucho has called the Obama Justice Department “probably the most politicized … of any that’s been seen in the past.”