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North Carolina set to redraw political battle lines

Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 10:10 AM MDT|Updated: Apr. 6, 2021 at 5:17 PM MDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - In just a couple of years, North Carolina should have a louder voice in Congress. By then, the balance of power for the rest of the decade will hinge on a new set of geographic dividing lines.

Once all the data is crunched from the 2020 census, political boundaries around the country will be redrawn so each seat in the U.S. House represents about 750,000 constituents back home.

Over the last 10 years, no state’s maps produced more legal headaches than North Carolina’s.

“It should be fair, it has to be fair, it has to be legal,” U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said of the process ahead.

Tillis oversaw a round of redistricting back when he served as North Carolina’s Speaker of the House in 2011. Though the Congressional map lawmakers produced received pre-clearance from the Department of Justice, courts struck it down in 2016 and a revision in 2019, finding the boundaries to be rigged against minorities and Democrats respectively.

Over the years, North Carolina’s population kept growing, and in 2023, so will the number of representatives the state sends to Congress. State lawmakers will need to redraw North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts into 14.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D-N.C.) cannot veto the plan, so Republicans in the statehouse will have complete control of that process.

“I think even the founding fathers accepted there was going to be a political dimension,” Tillis said when asked whether and how much of a role partisan politics should play in redistricting.

While Tillis says he’s confident his former colleagues in Raleigh can construct a fair map, other states are trying to take politics out of the equation. More than a dozen will look to commissions or experts to draw their boundaries.

“I would say anything would be better than what we do in North Carolina,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina.

Common Cause fought multiple court battles against the state’s previous congressional maps. He said legal battles should offer more protections against gerrymandering but he worries enforcement still lacks teeth and remains a slow process.

While Phillips is skeptical either party is capable of drawing a fair map, he’s glad it will play out more publicly this time.

“It’s not perfect, but certainly more openness than we’re accustomed to seeing,” Phillips said.

Whatever the final map looks like, history suggests there’s a good chance it eventually ends up in court. Lawmakers should receive the Census data they need to begin redrawing district lines in August.

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