RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Republicans redrawing district boundaries for the General Assembly on Wednesday defended their initial outlines and the number of maps they say are drawn to comply with state court rulings and federal laws safeguarding minority voting strength.
On the eve of a public hearing Thursday, the chairmen of the House and Senate redistricting committees rejected early complaints by Democratic colleagues and activists that the GOP is trying to pack districts with a disproportionate number of black voters to help Republicans win in surrounding districts.
"The plans indicate that there are attempts under way to illegally pack and stack minorities into a few 'set-aside' districts which will weaken the minority voice and political influence across the state," said Irving Joyner, a law professor and attorney speaking for the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In a joint statement by Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the chairmen said there's no factual basis for the packing alleged and said a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requires they draw majority-black districts whenever possible to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
"While districts that adjoin majority-black districts may become more competitive for Republican candidates" the competitiveness is the result of complying with the Voting Right Act, Rucho and Lewis wrote.
The redistricting leaders rolled out draft maps late last week that include 24 House districts and nine Senate districts considered majority-black in terms of voting-age population. Some of the proposed boundaries are likely to place some incumbent legislators in the same district. Maps for the remainder of the districts are expected around July 1 in advance of a legislative session starting July 13 that's dedicated to approving new maps for the General Assembly and N.C. congressional delegation.
The maps will be based on 2010 U.S. Census figures. Republican legislative victories last fall gave them the majority in both chambers and the prize of influencing the boundaries that will be used through the 2020 elections.
The GOP redistricting leaders' statement also criticized Democratic arguments that the proposed minority districts aren't compact and have unusual shapes that bring in enough black voters to exceed the 50 percent barrier. They pointed to the boundaries of the 1st Congressional District represented by Rep. G.K. Butterfield, which contain finger-like swaths of land Down East, as proof districts don't have to look compressed to be legal.
"We believe that all of our proposed legislative districts are based upon reasonably compact black populations," the statement read.
The Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president, said it's hard to accept on its face comments the GOP majority is concerned about the political power of minority groups after a legislative session in which lawmakers approved photo ID requirements for voting. Democrats argue the bill, which is currently on Gov. Beverly Perdue's desk, would suppress voting of older adults and black residents. Republicans disagree and say voter ID is designed to reduce opportunities for voter fraud.
The group will keep an eye to "make sure the clock on civil rights is not turned back and our state pursues a course that provides justice for all,' Barber said in a prepared statement.