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Posted by on Nov 11, 2015

Analysis shows uncertainty for NC legislative elections, reinforces need for independent redistricting

Control of the NC General Assembly could be uncertain in the decade ahead as the state sees dramatic demographic shifts, according to a new analysis from political scientists at NC State University.

According to Dr. Andrew Taylor and Dr. Mark Nance, many legislative districts currently leaning Republican will see a shift toward Democratic voters – and vice versa – in the coming years. In turn, it will be unclear which party might control the legislature for the next rounds of redistricting in 2021 and 2031.

The analysis by Taylor and Nance was presented as part of the Abe Holtzman Public Policy Forum at NC State University on Wednesday night.

Under North Carolina’s longstanding system, whichever party controls the General Assembly is also in charge of the decennial redistricting process in which the state’s congressional and legislative maps are redrawn. Redistricting has been highly partisan under both Democratic and Republican majorities, leading to districts that stifle competition and diminish the ability of voters to choose their representatives.

However, Nance and Taylor say that rapidly changing demographics will make political gerrymandering far more difficult to pass judicial scrutiny and less sure to withstand even small waves in future elections. In turn, gerrymandering will become a greater risk for whichever party is in charge of the legislature.

“Both parties in the past have been reluctant to establish an independent redistricting process, perhaps because they believed they would be in the majority when redistricting rolled back around,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “However, this new analysis gives Republicans and Democrats a powerful reason to pass redistricting reform now, instead of gambling on which party might be in charge in the coming years.”

Phillips said that partisan gerrymandering has alarmed many civic leaders across the state, with more than 240 elected officials from around North Carolina signing a petition in support of redistricting reform. And almost a dozen municipalities have passed resolutions asking the legislature to establish an independent redistricting process.

“We’re seeing a growing number of civic and business leaders from across the political spectrum express real concern about the polarizing and destabilizing effects of gerrymandering,” Phillips said. “Independent redistricting would provide greater political stability for North Carolina, which could make our state more attractive to the business community while strengthening voter confidence in the integrity of our elections.”

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Posted by on Sep 3, 2015

Our View: Redistricting Suit Reminds Us of A Better Way

Fayetteville Observer

Posted: Wednesday, September 2, 2015 11:30 pm | Updated: 11:43 pm, Wed Sep 2, 2015.

It’s been more than four years and two state elections since the latest North Carolina voting districts were created.
But they are still under a cloud of legal challenges that have already found their way to the U.S. Supreme Court once and probably will land there again.

The question is not whether the Republican majority in the General Assembly gerrymandered the districts to gain political advantage. Of course they did, and that’s legal and constitutional. What’s at issue here is whether legislative mapmakers went beyond politics and used race to design districts that also give them an advantage – which is neither legal nor constitutional.

The N.C. Supreme Court ruled last year that the redistricting was legal in all ways and that the new districts could stand. But the decision – in which former state Sen. Margaret Dickson of Fayetteville is the lead plaintiff – was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In April, that court tossed the case back to the N.C. Supreme Court, saying it must reconsider whether lawmakers relied too heavily on race.

The redistricting did create some bizarre-shaped districts, especially those created to insure success for African-American candidates. But it’s still uncertain if those districts were created by a legally unacceptable process.
The state Supreme Court held its second review of the case on Monday, and justices seemed perplexed by what they saw as sharply differing precedents in federal court decisions, seeking explanations from lawyers for both sides.

No matter how the state justices rule, another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is seen as inevitable by both sides. The N.C. justices didn’t say Monday how quickly they would rule. We hope a decision will come before campaigning begins in earnest for 2016 state and federal elections.

We’d also like to see this as a final chapter in a saga that plays out almost like clockwork after every decade’s exercise in redistricting. It’s a frustrating, time-and-money-wasting ritual that undermines voters’ confidence in their electoral system. At various times in the past, both Democrats and Republicans have united around plans to create a nonpartisan legislative redistricting commission. Such a measure has bipartisan support in the N.C. House today, but not in the Senate.

It’s time to stop this endless cycle of protests, lawsuits, special legislative sessions and delayed elections. Let’s turn redistricting over to an impartial panel and make the voter, not political power, the most important principle.

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Posted by on Jul 20, 2015

Nonpartisan redistricting supporters resurrect dead Gov. Elbridge Gerry

UNDER THE DOME
JULY 17, 2015
Nonpartisan redistricting supporters resurrect dead Gov. Elbridge Gerry

Namesake of gerrymandering appears on Twitter

N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is behind account

‘Redistricting reform’ bills have gone nowhere this session
Gov. Elbridge Gerry
Gov. Elbridge Gerry
BY COLIN CAMPBELL
ccampbell@newsobserver.com

Former Vice President and Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry has been dead for 200 years, but an advocacy group is bringing him back this month to lobby for nonpartisan redistricting.

The term gerrymandering is named for him because he redistricted the Massachusetts state Senate to benefit his political party in 1812. As of this month, Gerry has a Twitter account in which he lobbies to reclaim his legacy by ending the use of gerrymandering to draw district lines.
The account – and an accompanying opinion piece in Friday’s News & Observer – are authored by the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, which is pushing for nonpartisan redistricting in North Carolina.

The group is encouraging supporters to tweet 271st birthday wishes to the dead governor.
State legislation to create a nonpartisan redistricting reform process have drawn dozens of co-sponsors from both parties, but neither the House or Senate has held a hearing on the bills this year.

And with the legislature now turning its focus to the state budget, the bills could be as dead as Gov. Gerry.

UNDER THE DOME

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article27489067.html#storylink=cpy

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Posted by on Jun 30, 2015

Supreme Court decision may clear way for partisan support for NC redistricting commission

Richard Craver/Winston-Salem Journal
North Carolina – at least for now – is not likely to feel a ripple effect from Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona’s right to have an independent commission handle congressional redistricting.
The court ruling affected 13 states – none in the Southeast – that use commissions as part of their congressional redistricting process every 10 years. The goal of the commissions is limiting partisan influence.

By comparison, North Carolina redistricting is handled by the General Assembly, which has received criticism for being partisan in developing map lines, depending on which party controls the legislature.

“The court opted not to place a barrier in the way of independent congressional-redistricting commissions that are in effect or might be contemplated by other states, such as North Carolina,” said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University.

Three House and one Senate bills have been introduced during the current legislative session, none of which have been acted upon.

“The Supreme Court ruling clarifies that the redistricting commission bills filed in the General Assembly this year are constitutional,” said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, and a co-sponsor of House Bill 92. “That ruling removes one of the objections.”

Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and president pro tem, had a one-word answer – “No” – when asked if the U.S. Supreme Court decision directly affects N.C.’s redistricting process.

A more pivotal legal case affecting North Carolina redistricting is set for Aug. 31. That’s when the N.C. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments addressing challenges to the 2011 redistricting maps that also set legislative districts.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to N.C. Supreme Court with instructions to reconsider a December decision that upheld the maps. The case is Dickson vs. Rucho.

Margaret Dickson, a former state legislator, is serving as plaintiff. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, is the primary defendant for the legislature. Dickson’s lawsuit, backed by the state NAACP chapter, says the aim of the current redistricting maps is to dilute the black vote in violation of the U.S. and state constitutions.

“The result has been a lack of competition in our state’s congressional and legislative elections, depriving North Carolina voters of having a real voice in choosing their representatives,” left-leaning advocacy group Common Cause N.C. said.

Dinan said the biggest difference between the Arizona redistricting case and North Carolina is North Carolina doesn’t have a provision for the citizen initiative process.

“There was a very small chance — or at least speculation — that if the court did find fault with the Arizona redistricting commission that the court could have gone so far as to invalidate any independent congressional-redistricting commissions, whether they were established through the initiative process or by some other process,” Dinan said.

“The argument would have been that the Constitution says congressional redistricting must be done by state legislatures, and no other body can perform this role.

“Such a sweeping ruling would have had major implications for any state contemplating establishing an independent commission to handle congressional redistricting,” Dinan said.

Bi-partisan support is there
House Bill 92 has three Republican and one Democratic primary co-sponsors and 59 co-sponsors, including Reps. Ed Hanes and Evelyn Terry of Forsyth.

That bill would give redistricting authority to a nonpartisan legislative staff panel with both parties having representation.

It would require legislative districts to be within 5 percent of the “ideal population,” and also be comprised of districts that meet at more than just adjoining corners.

Ideal population is defined as keeping districts, whether congressional or legislative, roughly equal in terms of population “as nearly as is practicable,” according to Joseph Levitt, a law professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, congressional districts would be required to be within 0.1 percent of the ideal population.

Despite having more than half of the House as sponsors, the Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission bill has not been acted on since sent to the House Elections committee Feb. 18.

“Bipartisan support exists in the N.C. House to establish a commission,” Insko said.

“What would help move the bills forward is increasing public support. The gerrymandered districts will not support some sitting Republicans in the NC Senate due to population shifts.”

Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause N.C., said he is hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court ruling will build momentum “to take partisan politics out of the redistricting process.”

“We urge the General Assembly to pass House Bill 92 and establish a fair system for drawing our state’s voting maps.”

Gov. Pat McCrory, as well as former governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin, has expressed support for redistricting reform. Also on board for reform are the right-leaning John Locke Foundation and the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center.

“The outcome of this case could have a long-term impact on efforts to change North Carolina’s redistricting process to one involving an independent commission or legislative staffers,” said Mitch Kokai, a policy analyst for the Locke Foundation

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Posted by on Mar 31, 2015

Supreme Court asks Virginia panel to reexamine redistricting decision

The Washington Post

By Jenna Portnoy and Robert Barnes

March 30 at 5:00 PM
The Supreme Court on Monday told a federal judicial panel in Virginia to take another look at its decision that lawmakers improperly packed minority voters into one congressional district.

The court sent the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia without comment, following its decision last week in a similar case from Alabama.

In the Alabama case, the court ruled 5 to 4 that lower court judges should look more closely at whether lawmakers made race the predominate factor in drawing new district lines after the 2010 census.

[Supreme Court hands win to opponents of Alabama redistricting plan]

In Virginia, a three-judge federal district court panel ruled in October that the Virginia General Assembly must draw new congressional maps, because the current plan concentrates African American voters into a single district at the expense of their influence elsewhere.

Both the Virginia and Alabama cases hinge on when it’s legal to use race to draw district boundaries.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Virginia case, along with several independent experts, said it is unlikely that the federal court in Virginia will make a different ruling this time around.

“I wouldn’t expect anything to change,” said Marc Elias, who represented two voters from the district where the redistricting in question took place.

Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who runs a blog about redistricting, said nothing in the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Alabama case gives the Virginia court any reason to alter its original ruling.

“Alabama strengthened the trial courts’ decision against Virginia,” he said. “Essentially the accusations against Virginia that the trial court found to be true are really, really, really close to the accusations against Alabama.”

But Michael A. Carvin, who is representing former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Virginia’s Republican congressional delegation in their appeal of the lower court’s decision, drew the opposite conclusion. “We’ve always been confident in our defense and there’s no reason to think differently now,” Carvin said.

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