Thursday, 21 February 2019 16:17

Second redistricting reform bill emphasizes rules and transparency

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RALEIGH — A bipartisan group of state lawmakers Thursday introduced the second of what may be several measures to reform North Carolina’s redistricting process.


The two bills share several sponsors. But House Bill 140, Fairness and Integrity in Redistricting, rolled out at a morning news conference, not only would change state law but also would ask voters to cement those changes by adding them to the state constitution.

“North Carolina has few robust safeguards against partisan gerrymandering, and we aim to change this,” Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, the bill’s primary sponsor, said Thursday.

As McGrady explained, H.B. 140 has three main goals: making mapmaking information transparent; drawing “common sense” districts; and removing excessive partisanship from districts’ design.

Rules would guide mapmakers to a large extent. Other than to comply with federal law, those drawing district lines in North Carolina couldn’t consider:

• The political affiliation of registered voters

• Results of previous elections

• Where incumbents or challengers live

• Demographic information of voters, other than the population count

• Any other information which could help identify how voters cast ballots

Districts also would have to satisfy state and federal laws. As much as possible they must have equal populations; shouldn’t divide counties; and must be contiguous (connected geographically) and compact.

Each district would have a single representative. They couldn’t be drawn with the goal of boosting the representation of any racial group or political party.

When lawmakers propose a set of congressional or legislative districts, the maps would be public for at least 10 legislative days before a floor vote could take place.

It’s one major difference between H.B. 140 and the first redistricting measure introduced, House Bill 69, which has an independent commission draw the maps (based on somewhat similar rules) and allows a vote on them in the General Assembly as soon as three legislative days after they’re introduced.

H.B. 69 also is only a statute with no constitutional amendment attached.

In the accompanying statute, H.B. 140 would have members of the nonpartisan legislative staff draw district maps, subject to the criteria in the constitutional amendment as well as more-specific definitions provided in the statute. A five-member advisory commission would answer questions the staff may have in applying the rules and host the required public hearings on any proposed districts, but the elected General Assembly would still have to approve the final product. The proposed constitutional amendment contains a separate provision authorizing other uses for redistricting commissions, although the accompanying statute does not pursue them.

Co-sponsor Reps. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, and Robert Reives, D-Chatham, also spoke briefly, endorsing the bill.

They were joined by former UNC System President Tom Ross. Along with McGrady, Ross chairs North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform, a bipartisan nonprofit group created to promote the plan. Raleigh businessman Art Pope (former chairman of the John Locke Foundation) also endorsed the measure, as did Vicki Lee Parker, director of the NC Business Council.