Republicans say the “special master” who is drawing new N.C. legislative districts is relying too much on race.
That special master, Nathan Persily, was assigned the task by three federal judges who believe current district lines are unfair to minority voters. Republicans, who drew those lines in 2011 and tried again this year, complained about Persily’s effort in a filing late last week.
Their problem? The new map “imposes race-based redistricting on the state against its will,” said Phil Strach, the attorney representing lawmakers.
Yes, Republicans in Raleigh are actually complaining about race and redistricting.
We’re not sure if those Republicans are short on memory or long on gall, but just in case it’s the former, here’s a brief and recent history on voting, race and the party in power in North Carolina:
Before enacting our state’s 2013 voter ID law, Republicans requested and received data on the use, by race, of several voting practices. They learned, for example, that blacks disproportionately lacked photo IDs issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, and that blacks used early voting – especially the first seven days of early voting – more than whites.
With that information, lawmakers changed an existing voting bill to exclude the IDs blacks did possess. The new bill also killed the first seven days of early voting, and it made other changes targeting blacks. It was disenfranchisement done with “surgical precision,” said federal judges in a blistering ruling that struck down the voter ID law.
Two years before, in 2011, Republicans drew the legislative districts that ultimately are being redone by Persily. Those lines targeted minority voters by adding them to districts where blacks already had considerable clout. That, effectively, diluted their voting power.
Republicans have insisted that they were simply following the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by making sure there were black-majority districts. Judge upon judge – including U.S. Supreme Court justices who sent the case back to North Carolina for another look in 2015 – haven’t bought that excuse.
All of which has led us to special master Persily, who has until Dec. 1 to get judges the final draft of his districts. His first draft surely made individual legislators in both parties uneasy, as some would be “double bunked” – forced to run against other incumbents in redrawn districts. But no one, including N.C. Republicans, has come close to establishing that Persily is targeting a particular racial outcome, which the law would forbid.
What Republicans actually seem to be upset about is that any outsider is redrawing districts. In his complaint last week, Strach said that the process ordered by the judges “ignores state sovereignty.” Strach neglected to mention, however, that judges already gave Republicans ample opportunity to fix the maps themselves.
They didn’t. So Persily is. He’s doing it not by engaging in “race-based redistricting,” but simply by drawing fairer districts. Apparently that’s something Republicans have trouble recognizing.