Posted in WRAL.com - By Matthew Burns and Laura Leslie - August 22, 2017
[Note: LWV-Wake members Dianna Wynn & Aylett Colston are quoted in this article. They spoke as private citizens, not on behalf of the League. Both are members of the LWV-Wake Redistricting Committee.]
Raleigh, N.C. — Calling proposed legislative district maps and the process used to draw them a sham, hundreds of North Carolina residents slammed state lawmakers Tuesday, saying they need to start over in trying to replace voting maps federal courts have deemed illegal.
Lawmakers face a court-imposed Sept. 1 deadline to adopt new House and Senate district maps, and tentative votes on the proposed maps have been scheduled for Friday and next Monday.
Seven public hearings were held simultaneously across the state Tuesday afternoon to gather input on the proposed maps, which were rolled out over the weekend. A steady stream of people criticized the maps as no better than the maps drawn in 2011. The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the findings of a panel of three federal judges who found that the Republican-led General Assembly illegally packed too many black voters into a few districts to strengthen GOP districts elsewhere.
"It looks like whoever drew this map certainly was coloring outside the lines," said Bobbie Schaffer of Fayetteville. "If you need any help, I'd be glad to help you. I think I could do a better job."
"Our 50/50 state is now going to be more gerrymandered than before," said Michael Eisenberg of Raleigh.
Bob Hall, executive director of left-leaning good-government group Democracy North Carolina, said the new maps would produce competitive races for only 15 of the 170 legislative seats.
"What we want and what the people want is fair maps, maps that represent people," said Tyler Swanson of the state NAACP. "These maps are unjust."
The court's findings of racial gerrymandering of 19 House districts and nine Senate districts prompted lawmakers to disregard the race of voters when crafting the new maps. Instead, they focused on maintaining their partisan advantage by factoring in voting patterns in recent elections and on protecting incumbents by not drawing them into the same districts.
Voters said they were appalled by the criteria lawmakers used to create the maps, especially after a public hearing at the beginning of the month in which dozens of people implored lawmakers to eliminate partisanship from the process.
"It's as if politicians are wearing noise-canceling headphones," Dianna Wynn said.
"Elections should be to protect voters' ability to have their say, not to protect incumbents," added Tricia Garcia.
"You use partisanship for a veiled cover for race," said Barbara Bliwise, a member of the League of Women Voters. "Your effort to be transparent is disingenuous."
Julian Pridgen, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit over the 2011 voting maps, said the new maps not only don't change the racial gerrymandering in Cumberland and Guilford counties, lawmakers illegally shifted districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties because they were nowhere near any of the 28 legislative districts that needed to be redrawn.
Even some people who supported the maps overall said they had problems with some aspects. A Craven County couple, for example, was upset that legislative leaders drew a couple of conservative lawmakers into districts with other incumbents. Meanwhile, people in Beaufort and Pamlico counties said they were drawn into districts with counties that don't share the same interests.
"A computer line drawn on a map doesn't recognize the people of a community," said Dave Wickersham, chairman of the Pamlico County Republican Party.
In addition to the maps themselves, voters blasted how they were drawn. Republican legislative leaders hired the same consultant who crafted the voided 2011 maps to develop the new ones, and the public had less than three days to review the maps – and only one to study the underlying data used – before the public hearing.
"This is no more than a sham," former Congresswoman Eva Clayton said. "If the process is flawed, the product is flawed."
"Your decision is already made. It's a sham (process)," echoed Gloria Failey of Orange County.
Corey Williamson of Raleigh attended the hearing with her sons and equated the maps with actions that would land the boys "in the naughty corner."
"Moms will come to the ballot box, and we will send those (lawmakers) not representing to the naughty corner," Williamson added.
Some speakers called on the courts to appoint someone to draw maps free of legislative influence. The three-judge panel that threw out the 2011 maps must approve any replacement maps, and if they don't like the lawmakers' plan, they could handle the chore themselves.
"Please see these maps for what they are," Dan Raity of Charlotte said. "The legislature, through their negligence, has failed to take this process seriously. They have proven they deserve to be taken out."
The seven public hearings were initially linked together via videoconferencing so that people at every location could address lawmakers. After three hours and about 50 speakers, however, Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, announced that 211 people remained on the sign-up lists to be heard. So, lawmakers at each location decided to split up into seven individual public hearings.
The Raleigh hearing lasted more than five hours, with about 70 people providing comments.
Lawmakers could make some changes to the maps based on the comments before the scheduled vote Friday, and Aylette Colston of Raleigh said she hopes they listen to their constituents.
"It's not too late to do the right thing," Colston said.