Intent of a Proposed North Carolina Redistricting Bill Under Question

By Matt McGregor
Matt McGregor
Matt McGregor
Matt McGregor covers news from North and South Carolina for The Epoch Times.
August 12, 2021 Updated: August 12, 2021

A Democrat-sponsored bill in the North Carolina Senate proposes to take redistricting authority out of nonpartisan control and into the Democrat-run state Board of Elections (BOE), according to Republican state Sen. Phil Berger.

One of the Democrat sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Ben Clark, however, said the bill’s intent is to provide transparency to the redistricting process.

The April 6 Senate Bill 511 (pdf), sponsored by Clark and Democrat state Sen. Mike Woodward, would sanction the math department at Duke University, or the school of government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with redistricting influence in consultation with the BOE.

North Carolina is divided into 13 congressional districts, with each district represented by a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

After every decadal release of U.S. Census Bureau population data, states in the country can begin redrawing their political maps in the process called redistricting, and when that redistricting is done to benefit either the Democrats or Republicans, it’s called gerrymandering.

For North Carolina, the 2020 U.S. Census Data was scheduled to be released on Thursday.

According to initial data from the census, over the last decade, North Carolina’s population grew 9.5 percent, which brought the U.S. House delegation up from 13 to 14 representatives.

After that census data is released, redrawing is expected to begin for the 14 congressional districts, 50 state senate districts, and 120 house districts.

District lines are redrawn every 10 years following the census, and the federal government stipulates that each district must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate based on race or ethnicity.

The redistricting work is performed by a nonpartisan legislature staff using a mathematical formula.

According to a press release from Berger on his Medium blog page, “Senator Berger Press Shop,” the proposal would allow for the BOE to delegate map-drawing power to the Democratic party’s expert witness from a 2019 redistricting lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Rucho v. Common Cause, the U.S. Supreme Court decided federal courts must refrain from reviewing any allegation regarding political gerrymandering that is outside of its jurisdiction.

In that same year, the case then went to the Wake County Superior Court, where it was ruled that the current legislative maps were unconstitutional within the parameters of the North Carolina Constitution, and the maps were redrawn, bringing in a majority vote on the maps from both parties.

Because of this decision, according to Berger, this method is “set in stone. They cannot be changed or altered.”

County Clustering

A spokesperson for the North Carolina Senate Republicans told The Epoch Times that the method by which redistricting is done is called county grouping, or county clustering, which itself is an anti-gerrymandering provision established by a 2003 North Carolina Supreme Court decision to institute “clusters,” which are group of counties that, based on population, can comprise legislative districts.

“At the end of the day, it’s the legislature that decides where the lines go within certain confines, and those confines are set in part by North Carolina Supreme Court precedent,” said the spokesperson.

County clustering is calculated using a mathematical formula that determines county groupings, or groups of counties that comprise whole districts.

The nonpartisan legislative staff calculates the math, then the report goes to a redistricting committee, with the subset of North Carolina counties providing the framework.

However, the bill, according to Berger, would “transfer responsibility” for developing county clusters to the BOE, with Jonathan C. Mattingly, a mathematics professor at Duke University—whom the North Carolina Democratic Party hired as an expert witness to challenge the Republican-drawn maps in 2019—being at the helm of the process.

Sen. Clark Counters the Claim

Clark told The Epoch Times that the intent of the bill is not “to take redistricting power away from the nonpartisan central staff and put in the hands of the NC State Board of Elections.”

“The bill deals specifically with bringing transparency to the county clustering process,” Clark said, adding that “county clustering is mandated by state supreme court rulings.”

Clark said that before drafting the bill, the nonpartisan central staff was consulted to determine if it had the ability to use the publicly provided code written by Duke University for generating sets of constitutionally compliant county cluster maps for use by the general assembly, with the response being that it didn’t.

“In 2011, the county cluster maps for the House and Senate that were used by the General Assembly were not generated by the nonpartisan central staff or any other state agency,” Clark said. “They were generated by a consultant of the Republican Party. Those county cluster maps were presented for use in the 2011 redistricting process as though they were the only constitutionally compliant options.”

Using a study published by Duke University titled “Optimal Legislative County Clustering in North Carolina,” Clark said it was “revealed that this assertion was false and that other constitutionally compliant maps were indeed available that could have been used.”

“It turns out that of the four that could have been adopted for use by the Senate, the one that was used was the one that provided the greatest partisan advantage to the Republicans,” Clark said. “The purpose of the Senate Bill 511 is to put in place a process by which the total set of constitutionally compliant county cluster maps can be generated and submitted to the General Assembly for use.”

Matt McGregor
Matt McGregor
Matt McGregor covers news from North and South Carolina for The Epoch Times.