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Courts called out local legislative districts in gerrymandering ruling

SALISBURY — When a state court ruled Tuesday that legislative district maps were gerrymandered to give Republicans an advantage, it focused in part on a grouping that includes local districts.

The findings call out the group of Davie, Rowan, Cabarrus, Stanly, Montgomery and Richmond counties. This includes House Districts 76, 77 and 83. Rep. Harry Warren holds the 76th House District seat. Rep. Julia Howard represents the 77th District, and Rep. Larry Pittman,  District 83.

The ruling stated, “The court gives weight to the analysis of plaintiffs’ experts and finds that significant portions of this county grouping are an extreme partisan gerrymander.” The county grouping “cracks” Democratic voters across its districts, the court said. Cracking is when mapmakers draw districts to dilute votes of the opposing party — Democrats, in this case.

“The cities of Kannapolis and Concord are both split across House Districts 82 and 83, cracking the Democratic voters across these districts to dilute their voting power,” the court said. “The Democratic voters from both of these cities are kept separate from the Democratic voters in Salisbury, which is placed in House District 76. ”

There was not a mention of Sen. Carl Ford’s 33rd Senate District.

Lawmakers have until Sept. 18 to redraw the maps to be used in the 2020 election. And the court’s ruling may mean the districts will look different along with the county’s representation.

Howard, who has served 16 terms in the House, has seen her district change multiple times. Primarily as the Davie County representative, she has had parts of Davidson, Forsyth, Rowan and Iredell counties in her district. In 2018, she became the representative of the northwestern part of Rowan County.

The Rowan County representatives are playing the “wait-and-see game” on the issue, Howard says.

Campaigning for 2020 has already started, especially in Pittman’s District 83. Brad Jenkins, a Republican challenger to Pittman, and Gail Young, a Democratic challenger, have announced their intend to run, but filing for legislative seats begins in December.

Campaigning will be the same for Pittman regardless of the district lines.

“My strategy will be the same as always: meeting people and letting them know where I stand on important issues, especially about limited government and standing up for their God-given rights as citizens and upholding our state and federal constitutions,” Pittman said.  

Young called the court’s ruling a great day for democracy. One of her campaign platforms is nonpartisan redistricting reform. She says districts should keep communities together.

Young said she doesn’t expect the district to look different and added that she will continue to campaign within the district lines in force as they are now.

Meanwhile, Warren said his approach to campaigning would be the same, but where he does that is what’s unknown.

He said the decision wasn’t unexpected because similar decisions have been made before. In 2017, a court-ordered legislative redistricting meant Warren was drawn into a district that flipped to the southeastern side of the county.

Howard said legislators must now “deal with the hand that they have.” Coming up with new maps takes a lot of money, time and energy to draw and redraw, especially with Hurricane Dorian hitting North Carolina and the lack of an approved state budget.

Ford said redrawing the map will delay the budget even more, as it is already two years into the fiscal year.

He said redrawing maps confuses candidates and, if the candidates are confused, then the voters are definitely confused.

The 2020 Census will also require a redrawing of the maps, making it three straight years with new district maps. The 2018 elections were held with maps redrawn in 2017.

Ford said he doesn’t know if his district will be affected. He says the state constitution favors whole counties being kept together, and he represents all of Rowan and Stanly counties. But once mapmakers start tinkering with one district, they have to tinker with another, which causes a domino effect, he said.

Warren proposed a bill in April that would establish an independent redistricting commission to draw district maps. There are two other districting bills in the legislature. He said no progress had been made because the issue was in court. Warren said he will continue to push for the commission if there continues to be an appetite for the change.

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