State lawmakers on Saturday released a new map showing how they want to redraw state House districts.
The proposed map comes after courts ruled that 2011 election maps for the state House and Senate included unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. State Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican who co-chairs the legislature’s joint redistricting committee, said new Senate maps will likely be released on Sunday.
Public hearings are scheduled for Tuesday and Lewis hopes the House will vote on his plan on Friday.
“The next step is members of the General Assembly and interested members of the public can look at them and offer suggestions,” Lewis said in a phone interview Saturday.
Republicans hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate, with 74 of the 120 House seats and 35 of the 50 Senate seats. Their numbers allow them to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes. If Republicans lost three House seats they would lose their veto-proof majority.
The legislature is responsible for drawing legislative and congressional districts every 10 years based on Census data. The governor has no role in approving district maps.
District lines are key factors in influencing elections. Democrats have complained for years that Republicans drew unfair lines in an attempt to secure legislative control. Republicans made similar arguments when Democrats controlled the legislature.
Three federal judges ruled the maps from 2011 included 28 racial gerrymanders – 19 state House and nine state Senate districts – that weakened the overall influence of black voters. The judges ordered new maps drawn, approved and delivered to the court by Sept. 1.
“We worked long hours trying to abide by the criteria,” Lewis said. “I in no way am saying they’re perfect. I hope my colleagues will engage so we can improve the maps further.”
Some criticized Lewis because he didn’t release demographic data for each district on Saturday when he released the map. Lewis said on Twitter that legislative staff was working to get that information to the public on Monday.
Four proposed districts include more than one sitting House member, Lewis said.
Reps. Jon Hardister and John Faircloth, Republicans from Guilford County, are placed in a district together. They live about 15 miles apart – Hardister, the House majority whip, in Greensboro and Faircloth in High Point. Neither responded to requests for comment Saturday.
Reps. Carl Ford and Larry Pittman, Republicans who represent Cabarrus County, are also in a district together. Ford, reached by phone Saturday, said he was aware of the situation and said he looks forward to more redistricting discussions this week.
Given that districts must be roughly equal in size and must respect county boundaries as much as possible, “there’s only so many things they could do,” Ford said.
Pittman, who couldn’t be reached for comment, has at times been a controversial figure. In February, he was one of three Republican House members that called for lifting the state’s ban on seceding from the United States. In April, Pittman said in a Facebook post that President Abraham Lincoln was a “tyrant” similar to Germany’s Adolf Hitler.
The new map leaves a Chatham County district without an incumbent, and Reives, who serves as the deputy Democratic leader, said on Facebook that he looked forward to continuing to serve Chatham County voters.
Sauls said he plans to run in his current district that under the proposed map would include all of Lee County.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court in June unanimously affirmed the ruling finding racial gerrymandering, voting rights organizations and others have criticized the General Assembly for waiting until late August to release the proposed district lines and supporting data to the public.
Thomas Hofeller, a veteran mapmaker for the Republican Party, helped the legislative leaders draw both sets of maps.
“Republican leaders continue to show they are more concerned with maintaining their supermajority than fairly representing North Carolina,” state Democratic Party Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds said in a statement. “We’ll wait to see more details before examining individual districts, but we continue to be concerned by Republicans’ insistence on using the same dark arts gerrymandering expert who drew the previous unconstitutional maps, and their refusal to conduct this process in a transparent and bipartisan fashion.”
The maps were released Saturday without the data and files the mapmakers used to shape the new districts. Because of that, the attorneys representing the challengers of the 2011 districts have not been able to analyze the effect of the new lines.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy NC, a voting rights organization, said it’s difficult to tell much from the maps without the supporting data, other than which lawmakers have been placed in the same districts.
“The colors on the map are pretty, but you really can’t tell much of anything about how fair the district lines are without the data,” Hall said.
The map seems to keep 112 of the 120 House members as the only incumbents in their districts, though there is a possibility that lines could shift some after the hearings next week.
Staff writer Will Doran and Lauren Horsch of the N.C. Insider contributed.