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Lawmakers must redraw district maps again

The ruling came late Tuesday from a panel of three federal judges: North Carolina’s congressional district maps were found, yet again, to be unconstitutional.

District maps were redrawn in 2011 after the release of 2010 census data.

For many states, the influence of a Republican-dominated legislatures was felt in the redistricting process. But lawsuits on redistricting have been filed in 38 states so far.

North Carolina was found in 2016 to have two racially gerrymandered districts: District 1, in the northeastern corner of the state, and District 12, which includes parts of Charlotte. Redistricting increased the number of black voting-age residents by 4 percent in District 1 and 7 percent in District 12.

As a result of court rulings, the congressional map was redrawn in 2016. But Tuesday’s ruling and the accompanying 190-page judges’ opinion found that the new map is still flawed.

The 2016 map was found unconstitutional because of a partisan lean that favored Republicans 10-3 in the 13-district state. It was reviewed by a three-judge panel for the Middle District of North Carolina as a result of two cases contesting its fairness: Common Cause vs. Rucho and the League of Women Voters of N.C. vs. Rucho.

The judges found that the 2016 map “cracked” and “packed” Democratic voters to sway the influence and impact of their votes. The Democratic-leaning city of Asheville was split between Republican-controlled Districts 10 and 11, and Democratic-leaning Greensboro was split between Republican-controlled Districts 6 and 13.

Conversely, Districts 4 and 12 were drawn to be predominantly Democratic, the judges ruled.

Congresswoman Alma Adams, a Democrat representing the 12th District, called Tuesday’s ruling a “victory for democracy.”

“The Republican-controlled General Assembly has deprived North Carolina voters of constitutional districts for nearly a decade in order to maintain their control in state and federal government,” she said.

Judges used statistical analysis and computer simulation to determine the map’s fairness. According to the majority opinion, a similar delegation of 10 Republicans and three Democrats occurred in fewer than 0.7 percent of simulated plans using actual 2016 congressional elections.

“Put differently, using both actual 2012 or 2016 votes, more than 99 percent of the 24,518 simulated maps produced fewer Republican seats than the 2016 plan,” said Judge James A. Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the majority opinion.

The judges’ opinion said that Republicans hold 76.9 percent of the seats in the state’s 13-seat congressional delegation. North Carolina voters, it said, cast only 53.22 percent of their votes for Republican congressional candidates in the last election.

The panel of judges has ordered the General Assembly to approve a new map by Jan. 24. The turnaround is tight as filing for congressional elections begins Feb. 12.

Michael Bitzer, professor of political science at Catawba College, said in a blog post that it is likely the case will be immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and that a stay may be issued on the ruling. The Supreme Court has a decision pending on a similar redistricting case from Wisconsin.

The General Assembly was told to redraw the districts or allow a special master to do so.

“… (W)ith the potential for a Democratic wave coming this year, some consideration of perhaps a ‘less greedy’ congressional map, drawn again at the hands of Republicans, may help to blunt some of the potential fallout from November’s election,” Bitzer said. “For Democrats, the ‘special master’ route would be the only acceptable author of a redrawn, and less partisan, road map to competitiveness in … congressional districts.”

Jonathan Mattingly, a Duke University professor of mathematics and statistical science, said Tuesday’s ruling was “a win for the voice of North Carolina’s citizens.”

“It recognizes that political gerrymandering can suppress the will of the people and their ability to express political desires at the ballot box …,” said Mattingly, “We hope that the courts continue to accept and appreciate mathematical analyses.”

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