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Rep. Warren introduces independent redistricting bill

By Liz Moomey
liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — State Rep. Harry Warren has introduced a bipartisan bill that he hopes will provide transparency about redistricting after multiple court battles and ahead of the 2020 census.

In drafting the N.C. FAIR State and Congressional Districts Act, House Bill 648, Warren said he hopes to create an independent redistricting commission to draft proposed election maps for the General Assembly to consider. This would include districts for state Senate and House races and U.S. congressional races.

“It’s elected officials’ responsibility to get these districts drawn,” said Warren, a Republican whose district covers a large swath of Rowan.

The commission would consist of 11 voting members and five nonvoting members. The 11-member committee would include two selected by the majority leader of the state Senate, two selected by the minority leader of the Senate, two selected by the majority leader of the House and two selected by the minority leader of the House. The remainder would be selected by the other members of the committee.

Three voting members would have to be listed as unaffiliated in voter registration records and as not voting twice consecutively in one party’s primary over the past five years. Warren said the restrictions should help the committee identify an individual who is objective in voting habits.

Warren said this should also exclude people who have held or desire to hold political office.

The current redistricting process in North Carolina involves the state legislature drawing both congressional and North Carolina General Assembly district lines. Of late, that process has drawn court scrutiny for racial and partisan gerrymandering.

Warren said the bipartisanship of the commission should alleviate concerns about redistricting based on partisan interests. The commission would have public meetings, which he hopes will provide transparency.

The commission would chose a special master — responsible for drafting election maps using the federal census. After a majority of the commission agreed, the maps would be sent to the General Assembly for consideration. The plan would include the proposed maps and the population of each district. 

The bill has sponsors from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Primary sponsors are Reps. Bobby Hanig, R-6; Grier Martin, D-34; and Chaz Beasley, D-92. Warren said, having bipartisan support from the beginning was important.

The bill has more than 20 co-sponsors, many of whom are Democrats.

“When I wrote the bill, I thought what could I live with if my party was in the minority,” Warren said.

Rowan County Democratic Party Chairman Geoffrey Hoy said, when it comes to redistricting, he wants it to be truly nonpartisan.

Hoy said gerrymandering is unhealthy and both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of manufacturing districts that benefit their party.

“I would commend (Warren’s) attempt,” Hoy said. “I would hope it might lead to fairer districting. Granted, it’s an extremely tricky situation.”

Warren said the addition of the House Redistricting Committee demonstrates the Republican leadership’s sincere interest in redistricting reform. H.B. 648 is the third bill filed to address redistricting.

Nancy Evans, Rowan County elections director, said having last-minute changes in district lines, which have occurred in recent history as a result of court rulings, can be frustrating because it produces time-consuming work to ensure voters are casting ballots for the correct candidates in their district.

Evans said creating district lines that follow precinct lines eases confusion because everyone in the precinct would have the same ballot.

Contact reporter Liz Moomey at 704-797-4222.

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