RALEIGH — With the 2020 election in the rearview, the General Assembly will be turning its attention to the 2022 midterms and beyond. That means a focus on election law and redistricting with an eye on what is happening on Capitol Hill.
North State Journal sat down with Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) recently and talked to him about the coming redistricting process and possible election-related legislation.
Delayed census data, which Hall says they anticipate receiving sometime in September, has pushed back redistricting efforts by lawmakers, but Hall says conversations on the topic are already happening.
“That’s important because you can’t draw any districts really until you have that data,” said Hall. “Anywhere from a municipality all the way up to your congressional seats — until you get data, you really can’t do much.”
“I know their filing dates are going to be coming up this summer,” Hall said of the situation municipalities are in due to the delayed data. “We are starting to have those discussions about how to handle the municipality part of that. As far as our legislative congressional maps, we still think we’ll have time to get that done because those [races] won’t be until 2022.”
This will be Hall’s third time being involved in redistricting, but it is the first time he’ll do it as chair of the House committee. He said he wants to make sure redistricting is transparent, with a “really open process” that is “deliberate and methodical.”
Since its inception in the fall of 2016, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), run by former Obama attorney general Eric Holder, has been vocal about the need to attack gerrymandering in specific states in order to “secure fair maps for the next decade.” North Carolina has been on the NDRC’s target list since the beginning, often working with Democratic fixer and former Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Marc Elias.
“Well, the first thing that I’ll say is that we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what Eric Holder wants us to do,” Hall said about Holder’s increasing focus on North Carolina, adding that groups like Holder’s are “not after fair maps; they’re after maps that elect more Democrats.”
Hall recounted the process in 2019, which was done in the open, was videotaped every step of the way and without using partisan data per a court order.
“So, for the first time in the history of the state, maps were drawn without using partisan data. And the result was that many Democrats still voted against those maps,” Hall said.
In terms of drawing districts, Hall said he agrees with the use of “Stevenson criteria,” a method to keep counties and municipalities as whole as possible based upon population.
Left-leaning groups like Common Cause North Carolina and the N.C. ACLU have sued over voting maps and election-related laws since Republicans took over supermajorities in both chambers after the 2010 elections.
Republicans have not had much help from the N.C. attorney general’s office in those cases. In 2016 as he was running for governor, then-Attorney General Roy Cooper refused to defend the state in an appeal of a court ruling that overturned a set of election and voter ID laws. His successor, Josh Stein, refused to appeal another voter ID-related suit ahead of the 2020 primaries.
“Well, you know, the maps in North Carolina have been litigated now for decades, and it seems like that’s just been a constant thing in North Carolina,” said Hall about the possibility for litigation of future maps. “Our hope is that this time around we can avoid a lot of that. I can tell you that we plan to conduct a transparent process following constitutional guidelines.”
While that is Hall’s hope, he also expects a lawsuit regardless of their transparent and bipartisan efforts.
“There are groups out there that are just simply interested in electing more Democrats and any map that doesn’t do that to the maximum possible extent, they’re not going to be pleased with it, and they’re going to file suit over it,” said Hall. “We believe that the process can be done in a bipartisan way in this building. What left-wing interest groups want to do outside of the building, we can’t control.”
National level bills moving through Congress have not escaped the attention of N.C. lawmakers. In particular, they are watching H.R. 1, which has already passed the House and contains sweeping changes which critics say will weaken election integrity. Former Vice President Mike Pence called H.R. 1 “a massive 800-page election overhaul bill that would increase opportunities for election fraud, trample the First Amendment, further erode confidence in our elections, and forever dilute the votes of legally qualified eligible voters.”
Hall said he is “generally aware of H.R. 1, and from what I know about it, I don’t like it.”
“It basically transforms the way that we do elections in this country and the way that we’ve done them since the founding of this country,” said Hall. “States are in control of their own elections process and this bill would essentially strip that away and give it to the federal bureaucracy, which we think would be a disaster.”
Hall added that there has been some “very initial discussion” about what the General Assembly might be able to do about H.R. 1, but said right now, it is “mainly a fight that’s going to take place in Congress.”
In addition to redistricting, Hall is taking a look at how to resolve issues that cropped up during the 2020 election, such as a police officer in Durham County who was told he could not vote while in his official uniform.
“That was a blatantly unconstitutional decision,” Hall said. “A person can’t be turned away from polls for wearing their work uniform, especially our law enforcement uniform.”
Hall went on to say lawmakers are preparing a bill that will make it clear in state law that election boards may not turn away a uniformed law enforcement officer or uniformed military personnel or first responder from the polls simply because they are wearing their uniform.