Retired judges release congressional district maps, draws fire from House leadership

Duke Sanford School of Public Policy

DURHAM — A panel of retired North Carolina judges — 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats — presented their own version of North Carolina’s congressional district map calling it an example of nonpartisan, independent redistricting. The group revealed Monday the five-month project, which was organized by Duke University and Common Cause North Carolina and led by former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justices Rhoda Billings, a Republican, and Henry Frye, a Democrat. The map created 13 geographical districts with equal populations that doesn’t factor in voting history of the areas. The map is not official, but the panel says it would comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. They say that project maps show six likely Republican districts, four likely Democratic districts and three toss-up districts. Critics of the map simulation say that the basic data provided by Common Cause skewed the results in favor of Democrats. They say the group purposefully left out 2012 presidential results in an effort to call several districts “competitive” when they actually leaned left. “It is difficult to take seriously this charade of ‘non-partisan’ redistricting from a national liberal interest group suing to strike down a map that splits fewer counties and fewer precincts than any map in modern state history — when Common Cause’s only problem is that it doesn’t elect enough Democrats,” said Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) in a statement released by his office. “Notwithstanding that their media stunt violates the North Carolina Constitution’s delegation of redistricting to the people’s elected representatives and violates the requirement of ‘one person one vote,’ it is troubling that it was done with little transparency and far less public feedback from across the state than the open and transparent process conducted by the legislature.”The current map was redrawn by the General Assembly after a federal judge ruled the legislature unconstitutionally gerrymandered by using race in two of the 13 districts. The General Assembly redrew the maps and had to delay the congressional primaries to June. “The panel did an outstanding job of following the clear criteria of achieving equal population, compactness and compliance with the Voting Rights Act, while leaving out partisan political consideration,” Tom Ross, former UNC System president, said. “We believe this exercise shows how impartial redistricting can produce voting maps that are free from partisan gerrymandering and accurately reflect the population of North Carolina.”Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause NC, says that more voters want the maps to be redistricted independently in North Carolina. According to an April Public Policy Polling survey, 60 percent of state voters would favor an independent system of redistricting, while 9 percent opposed it. “We are seeing growing agreement among voters and political leaders from both sides of the political aisle that we need to take partisanship out of the way voting maps are drawn in North Carolina,” Phillips said. “The work done by these former judges shows how a truly impartial redistricting process could be successfully adopted in North Carolina.”Both Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and his opponent in this fall’s gubernatorial race, state Attorney General Roy Cooper, have opposed gerrymandering.