Redistricting Brief from N.C. Lawmakers Calls Democrats’ Challenge to House Map a Meritless, “Contradictory Mess”

“Plaintiffs stake out a contradictory and incoherent position that is difficult to defend as anything but partisanship in action.”

Broad bipartisan support for new districts includes former Gov. Jim Martin and former UNC System President Tom Ross of North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform

Raleigh, N.C. – Leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly responded Friday to the Democratic Party’s latest objections to new legislative maps for the state House that were produced in a bipartisan process that relied on the random selection of computer-generated maps created by the Democrats’ own redistricting expert, Dr. Jowei Chen.      

Though the state House and Senate followed nearly identical redistricting processes in response to the recent order of a three-judge panel, the Democratic Party plaintiffs in Common Cause v. Lewis remarkably challenged only the House plan, a move state lawmakers called “a contradictory and incoherent position that is difficult to defend as anything but partisanship in action.”

Lawmakers noted both the House and Senate maps “are predominantly the work of Dr. Chen’s method, which the Court already approved,” and only limited, necessary departures from those lines were conducted by nonpartisan staff in public view.

After insisting the state House should use Dr. Chen’s maps that did not factor incumbency (set 1), state Democrats have since reversed course and now contend the House should have used maps that did factor incumbency (set 2), baselessly alleging Republicans chose set 1 for partisan advantage. 

Lawmakers called their shifting logic “absolutely false” in the court filing.

The state House Redistricting Committee chose set 1 unanimously, lawmakers reminded the court, quoting Deputy House Democratic Leader Robert Reives (D-Chatham) who said in committee “my position would be it would be best to start with Group 1…I would propose that we do Plan 1…and start with those maps as our basis.” 

House Democratic Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover) also insisted “the first set is far and away the more pure and devoid of any partisan inference,” while Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood) called set 1 the “best of the best.”

Only following lengthy public debate and insistence from Democrats did the House Redistricting Committee choose set 1 instead of set 2, lawmakers reiterated to the court, making the plaintiffs’ subsequent objections to the choice of set 1 over set 2 in court filings “a contradictory mess.”

“In Plaintiffs’ view, both sides were advocating against their political interests…this disproves their unsupported conspiracy theory that legislators relied on partisan data,” lawmakers wrote.

“The choice of Chen set 1 was selected because it earned the trust of Democratic members who proposed it.”

Political data and partisan considerations were not part of the redistricting process in either chamber, lawmakers wrote, and “plaintiffs have no basis to contend otherwise,” particularly considering they did not allege the critical choice of which configuration to use had any partisan basis.   

All but one county grouping passed the House Redistricting Committee either by a unanimous or nearly unanimous vote, and all but one received supermajority, bipartisan support in the chamber’s floor votes. 

Lawmakers also addressed the Democratic Party’s claims that the legislature improperly considered political data, writing that “plaintiffs have offered no evidence (and there is none) that any of the Central Staff or Republican members reviewed this information.”

“Plaintiffs’ assertion that the House process ‘opened the door to partisan manipulation’ ignores the many safeguards against precisely that,” lawmakers wrote.  “Every line was drawn in public.  The lines were, by and large, implemented by non-partisan Central Staff members whose neutrality plaintiffs do not attack.” 

“Equally ignored in Plaintiffs’ objections – is the independent requirement the House Committee unanimously adopted that alterations be restricted to the minimum amount of changes to the specific districts affected by incumbency pairing.”

Lawmakers noted another glaring contradicting in the Democratic Party’s unusual challenge to the new House map, but not the Senate plan, involving communities of interest.

“Plaintiffs’ assertion that the House ‘improperly sought to preserve communities of interest’ actually describes a consideration used by the Senate in at least one county grouping process Plaintiffs do not challenge…Plaintiffs’ demand that the House be penalized for the Senate’s priorities is inexplicable,” they wrote.   

Four of the five county groupings challenged by the Democratic Party in the House map were adopted by unanimous committee votes and a bipartisan, supermajority vote of the entire North Carolina House, lawmakers reiterated. 

“Only one grouping even causes political controversy, yet Plaintiffs demand Court intrusion into five,” they wrote. 

“Plaintiffs object to the Brunswick-New Hanover grouping, even though they concede it is 100% drawn by Dr. Chen’s computer.  No changes were made to the base map.  The Committee unanimously adopted the grouping.  Yet the plaintiffs demand – in a curious twist for self-professed redistricting reform advocates – that the General Assembly protect the incumbency of someone who does not intend to seek reelection to the North Carolina House.” 

Lawmakers characterized the confusing, contradictory complaints of the Democratic Party’s challenges as attempts to “invent a preposterous scenario” under “seemingly unreal circumstances.”

“Plaintiffs’ objections to the Guilford grouping hardly fare better…whereas they complain that the House changed the base map for Cleveland-Gaston and Columbus-Pender too much, here they complain that the House changed the base map too minimally,” lawmakers noted.

The Cleveland-Gaston county configuration in the House map also received unanimous bipartisan support in redistricting committee, yet was nonetheless challenged by the Democratic Party plaintiffs. 

“While they criticize the configuration, they have provided no alternative that complies with the Committee’s rule on incumbency protection,” the court filing said of the Cleveland-Gaston county grouping, “and plaintiffs can point to no evidence of partisan intent.”   

“The most Democratic of the four – in fact a district more Democratic than 93.3% of Dr. Chen’s simulation sets, HD111, belongs to the Republican Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, Tim Moore.”

Lawmakers noted the Forsyth County configuration in the House map was also challenged by the Democratic Party plaintiffs despite the House Redistricting Committee unanimously adopting the grouping, writing that the “plaintiffs neither present nor simulate an alternative configuration that would fit the House’s restrictive criteria.” 

In the single contentious configuration, the Columbus-Pender-Robeson county grouping, lawmakers noted the new House plans predict two Democratic seats, just like 99.5% of Dr. Chen’s simulations of the grouping.

Lawmakers noted that of 276 unique configurations produced by Dr. Chen’s simulations for that grouping, just 5 produced simulations with only one Democratic seat instead of two.

“The fact that Chen’s simulations provide for 5 maps that would comply with this Court’s order, and that the legislature did not select these 5 maps, or amend the randomly drawn version, to create a second Republican seat, proves that there was no intent to place partisanship over criteria,” lawmakers wrote. 

The plaintiffs “rightly concede that the Senate process followed the Court’s order and challenge none of the adopted Senate groupings,” lawmakers wrote, “yet the House process was remarkably similar in all material aspects.”

Former UNC system president Tom Ross, the co-chair of North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform, called lawmakers’ process “a successful experiment in democracy” in a Charlotte Observer editorial last week.

“There was bipartisanship,” Ross said.  “There was transparency.  And as a result, we have fairer maps…this remedial process is about as passive a process as we can get…I believe this process provides one positive, possible solution.” 

Former Gov. Jim Martin also supported the new redistricting plans in the public comment portal on the legislature’s website, writing “the current version looks very good.  Thank you for taking the responsibility to get it right.”