Lawmakers redrawing voting maps spar over race criteria

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The state has until Friday to submit the new maps for approval.

A legal fight that could change not only who North Carolinians vote for but when we vote, is unfolding on Jones Street in downtown Raleigh.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers with the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting voted through seven criteria they'll use in redrawing congressional districts deemed unconstitutional by a federal three-judge panel.

The state has until Friday to submit the new maps for approval, but could get off the hook if the U.S. Supreme Court steps in and issues a stay in the matter.

North Carolina's 1st Congressional District.

Tuesday's meeting lasted four hours as Republican co-chairs Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. David Lewis laid out the criteria for discussion. Race was purposely excluded from the list of criteria that included other factors such as equal population, compactness, contiguity, and partisan advantage.
Republicans argued that because of a federal court ruling that they racially gerrymandered Districts 1 and 12 when lines were last drawn in 2011, they should consider political data but exclude race as a factor in this process.

Democratic minority members strongly disagreed with the move, warning their peers that ignoring race would be a direct violation of the Voting Rights Act. They were unsuccessful in voting it down.

"Some of us do strongly believe that we should move away from using race in making any decision in American life," Sen. Dan Blue, Senate Minority Leader told the committee. "But, we also believe that you comply with the law until we get to that point."

North Carolina's 12st Congressional District.

Rucho and other Republican members are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a stay in the matter until after the March primary. Should Chief Justice John Roberts deny Republicans' motion for a stay, the primary could be pushed back to May.

"It's a dysfunctional system when you stop the election," Rucho said. "You've got 16,000 people that have already gotten their absentee ballots. Those people are disenfranchised."

The committee leadership is hiring a consultant to draw up new maps using the approved criteria. Meanwhile, minority members are also rushing to draw their own version of the maps. Senators Blue and Floyd McKissick Jr. were among the most vocal in expressing their disapproval of getting only 24 hours' notice to deliver maps for consideration.

The committee is planning to meet Wednesday afternoon to review the maps and move forward with calling a special session of the state legislature. They expect to hold a vote by Friday and submit the redrawn maps by the federal court's deadline.

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