This story was originally posted online on NC Policy Watch.
North Carolina lawmakers met on Thursday to establish the ground rules for the redistribution process with the aim of completing the development of new legislative maps in early November. In a joint session Thursday of the House Standing Committee on Redistribution and the Standing Senate Committee on Redistribution and Elections, Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, said the intention was to abide by the laws of state and allow the State Electoral Council to print the ballots. before the candidacy period for the 2022 elections starting on December 6.
With the necessary census data not due to be released until August 12, the plan will give lawmakers limited time to ensure fair maps are developed with public input and participation.
The clipping data based on the 2020 decennial census will contain population counts in geographic areas as small as census blocks. The redistribution of legislative and legislative constituencies is essential for the state to comply with a set of constitutional and voting rights law requirements, including ensuring that constituencies contain an almost equal population and the “one person” principle. , a voice”.
The committee opened a portal for public comment after the meeting. Hall said members of the public can make any comments related to the redistribution process, including the criteria, proposed district lines and the process.
Unlike other states which confer power to an independent commission or allow a governor’s veto over maps developed by the state legislature, North Carolina currently grants sole authority for the redistribution process to the General assembly.
Since the census data will be released in a format that is difficult to manipulate, Erika Churchill, a member of the legislative staff, said it would take staff three weeks to convert the data into a usable format to be loaded into public redistribution terminals. .
In the meantime, Hall said members of the House committee would begin proposing and discussing criteria for district lines this year.
Hall said he expects the proposed criteria to be discussed as early as next Monday, August 9. Then committee chairs will review public comments starting Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. and the committee will vote on a final set of approval criteria on Thursday, he mentioned.
Churchill said staff would process census data based on criteria to be set by lawmakers.
Earlier this week, several voting rights groups sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate and House redistribution committees urging them to start the process quickly, to allow public comment before and after drafting of the draft. maps and increase transparency. The groups recommended that the legislature release the user-friendly version of the data earlier and ensure public access to the dissemination of the map-drawing process.
[Disclaimer: The North Carolina Justice Center, the parent organization of Policy Watch, signed on to the letter.]
Representative Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, told Thursday’s meeting that the letter raised some concerns and planned to propose rules that improve transparency. Harrison co-sponsored a bill this session – the Fair Maps Act – that would have established an independent redistribution commission, but GOP lawmakers never allowed it to be heard in committee.
The committees that met yesterday appear to be pursuing transparency measures from a court-ordered process in 2019, which Hall said he was comfortable with given what he described as the process’s success at the time.
“The 2019 process was the most – if not even questionable – but it was the most transparent redistribution process and the long history of this state,” Hall said.
A 2019 court order made it mandatory to redraw new legislative maps in public view after a three-judge panel found that the Republican-majority legislature had intentionally altered district maps to bolster their advantage.
At that time, members of the House and Senate redistribution committees were using a lottery machine to select the base card and broadcast the process of lawmakers tweaking district lines on computers, such as Political watch Previously reported.
Another court ruling overturning the 2016 congressional map prompted lawmakers to redesign congressional districts soon after in November 2019.
Once the census data is processed, the Legislature’s Information Services Division will allow lawmakers and members of the public to access the mapping software, Maptitude, Churchill said.
Judges banned the use of partisan data in mapping in the 2019 ruling. Court records indicated that Thomas Hofeller, the late Republican-hired cartographer and consultant was clearly using partisan data when drawing legislative maps.
Churchill said lawmakers would open two public terminals for themselves and the public to design their own cards. Members can make an appointment to use the terminal. Members of the public can also generate maps using free software, such as DistrictR and Dave’s Redistricting, export data, and import into public terminals.
The documents created would become public documents, Churchill explained.
Draft plans, statistical data, shapefiles and bills proposing new districts to the committee will be posted online, Churchill said.
Hall said the public also had an opportunity to provide comments on the draft cards.
Support local independent journalism. Join the INDY press club to help us maintain the viability of intrepid reporting and essential arts and culture coverage in the Triangle.
Comment this story on [email protected].