NCGOP vows transparency as redistricting process kicks into gear

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Every two years, North Carolina voters choose their representatives in Raleigh and in Washington. Every 10 years, those representatives engage in a process where lawmakers decide how their voters are divided.

The Republican-led General Assembly on Wednesday continued its public meeting tour on the redistricting process with a stop at Durham Technical Community College.

It's the latest in a series of 13 meetings where committee members share their criteria for how they're going to divide residents into voting blocs and also gain perspective from voters themselves.

"What we want to hear from folks is how they want this process to play out and what they want to see in terms of drawing these maps," said Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell County), Chairman of the House Rules Committee. "We've heard people want transparency. We've heard folks want to have input on how the maps are drawn."

Historically, Democrats and Republicans in North Carolina and across the country have been accused of drawing maps that presuppose outcomes to help their electoral chances, a process also known as gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering: What is it and how does it hurt voters?

Complaints about partisan gerrymandering almost always arise when one party controls the redistricting process and has the ability to maximize the seats it holds in a state legislature or its state's congressional delegation. Republicans, however, have been under intense scrutiny since becoming the majority party in 2010. Several times in the last decade courts have thrown out their maps after voting rights groups successfully argued they were unconstitutional. Before the courts intervened, Republicans held 10 of 13 congressional districts in a state that tends to have closely decided statewide elections. Likewise in the General Assembly, Republicans held comfortable majorities in the House and Senate, and even held veto-proof super-majorities from 2012-2018. In the 2020 election, new maps kept those majorities in the House and Senate, but the congressional delegation went eight Republicans and five Democrats.

"What we're going to focus on is keeping counties whole, keeping municipalities whole, trying to keep precincts whole," Rep. Hall said. "Doing those traditional criteria that will result in a map that makes sense and not the squiggly lines you often see. We're choosing to go in and say we're going to do this in public and we're going to voluntarily not use election data, even though the law probably lets us do that."

Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in 2019 on partisan redistricting - in a case involving North Carolina - where the 5-4 majority ruled federal judges should stay out of state redistricting issues.

"What the appellees and dissent seek is an unprecedented expansion of judicial power," wrote Justice John Roberts, adding that voters and elected officials should be the arbiters of what they consider a political dispute.

Despite the SCOTUS decision, legal fights remain in the North Carolina Supreme Court over whether partisan gerrymandering violates the state constitution.

"I don't think it matters who draws the map," Vashti Hinton-Smith, with Common Cause NC, told ABC11. "We've seen Democrats draw lines that favor them, and Republicans draw lines that favor them. I don't think it matters who's in office. It matters to those in the communities to feel represented and knowing they're represented."

Here is the schedule of the remaining public hearings:

Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. - Durham Technical Community College

Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. - Nash Community College

Sept. 16 at 5 p.m. - Alamance Community College

Sept. 16 at 3 p.m. - Pitt Community College

Sept. 21 at 5 p.m. - Western Carolina University

Sept. 22 at 3 p.m. - Central Piedmont Community College

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