‘Concept maps’ revealed as NC redistricting trial winds down

Published 11:29 pm Wednesday, January 5, 2022

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

RALEIGH — A North Carolina state legislator who helped orchestrate redistricting in his chamber this fall acknowledged Wednesday that he examined some “concept maps” that were created quietly by someone else before he drew new boundaries in a public committee room.

The testimony by House Redistricting Committee Chairman Destin Hall in a trial over redistricting lawsuits this week affirmed the comments he gave in a deposition in December.

The revelation of state House “concept maps,” which Hall said were drawn by an aide but apparently have been destroyed, contrasts with comments about transparency Republicans made while drawing congressional and legislative boundaries and approving them in early November.

Hall, in particular, repeatedly called the 2021 redistricting process the most transparent ever for North Carolina, and that only maps that were drawn on redistricting computers in a committee room whose activity was live-streamed would be accepted. Allison Riggs, a lawyer representing Common Cause in the lawsuit, said Hall was misleading the public and acted counter to his own warning during the process.

“There were maps drawn behind closed doors, and you never thought to mention them at all?” Riggs asked Hall.

Hall, a Caldwell County Republican, downplayed the significance of the maps he said he received from aide Dylan Reel, who recently left Hall’s office for the private sector, to speed up a difficult mapmaking process.

Hall said he received about four maps containing regions of the state that provided a “heads up about where cities and towns and population centers were. This was not something I sought out to copy.” Minimizing the number of municipalities that were split was a leading goal of Republican mapmakers.

Hall said he looked at each map for a “matter of seconds” as he went into the mapmaking committee space but said they had very little influence on his decisions: “I went in it and drew the maps that I wanted to draw in the room.”

Hall’s testimony came before the third and final day of testimony concluded in the fast-moving trial before a panel of three trial judges. Closing arguments will be held Thursday morning, after which the judges are supposed to come up with a ruling by next Tuesday. The plaintiffs want the maps redrawn. Any decision is likely to be appealed.

The state Supreme Court last month ordered the judicial panel to hear the case quickly and in the meantime delayed the scheduled March 8 primary to May 17.

Responding to a GOP lawyer’s question, Hall said the concept maps contained no racial or partisan data — Republican House and Senate redistricting members agreed to mapmaking rules in August that barred the use of such information for drawing plans. The prohibition of such data serves as one way how GOP leaders are defending their maps against lawsuit accusations that the lines they drew are illegal partisan and racial gerrymanders to favor their party’s political fortunes.

Riggs attempted to use the revelation of the concept maps to raise doubts about the House lines and suggest outside consultants contributed to the final product. Hall said he did not know what mapmaking program Reel may have used. Reel did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email seeking comment on the maps and how he drew them.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs placed several mathematicians and political researchers on the stand this week. They testified that when compared to computer simulations of U.S. House and state House and Senate districts, the enacted districts were extreme partisan gerrymanders that would give Republicans a strong likelihood to win 10 of the 14 U.S. House seats and keep General Assembly majorities. The evidence was so overwhelming that it raised the likelihood that Republicans intentionally drew lines to thwart Democrats in a state where statewide elections are usually very close, some plaintiffs’ witnesses said.

Republican legislative leaders put on their own political scientists and researchers Tuesday and Wednesday, suggesting GOP lawmakers did not develop the approved plans with partisan intent. Republicans have attributed some partisan outcomes favoring them to a political geography that tends to consolidate Democratic voters in urban areas, while Republican voters are more evenly dispersed.