Playing the numbers — the state redistricting game

Playing the numbers — the state redistricting game-attachment0

As the 10th largest state in the union according to the 2010 national census, North Carolina has some 9,535,483 people to be represented at the legislative level. So in the 2011 redistricting process that always follows the decennial census, N.C. legislators will see a noticeable jump in the number of individuals to whom they are specifically accountable.

The 50 state senators will be representing 190,710 people each, roughly 30,000 more than before. State representatives will represent 79,462 people, up about 12,400. And each of the 13 U.S. Congress members from the state will represent 733,499 people, up some 114,300.

Divising new legislative districts to account for these numbers is the job of the current Legislature. They have on hand a “Legislator’s Guide to North Carolina Legislative and Congressional Redistricting” that outlines the process and legal mandates involved. It cites, among other things, landmark cases from the U.S. Supreme Court that involved North Carolina’s past methods of redistricting — something of an alert to both the cumbersomeness and the importance of carving up the state for purposes of citizen representation.

Forty counties in North Carolina, for example, must meet “preclearance” under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, meaning a federal review must take place before the state’s proposed 2011 redistricting plan can become law. (Jackson County is the sole listing from Western North Carolina.) Compliance is specific: No purpose or intent to discriminate; and minority voters must be put in a “worse position than prior law.”

Then, there will be the strict scrutiny for racial gerrymandering, which uses the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to assess the possibility of majority-minority districts when race is the “predominate consideration,” or when race and political affiliation are highly correlated. And added to that is the reponsibility of avoiding partisan gerrymandering, which requires proof of both intentional discrimination and actual discriminatory effect.

Many eyes will be on the process as it moves forward. That obviously includes Buncombe County’s Sen. Martin Nesbitt, Jr., the Senate’s minority leader and a member of the redistricting committee, who has been a news topic recently for several state outlets because of statements made at the Senate’s first redistricting committee meeting on March 30. According to the N.C. Metro Mayors Coalition’s online report
, Nesbitt made a request several times to the committee chair, Mecklenburg County Republican Bob Rucho, that was repeatedly denied. Nesbitt asked the chair to allow two Democratic senators on the committee to step down and be replaced by Democrats Dan Blue of Wake County and Dan Clodfelter of Mecklenburg County. Nesbitt’s reason was said to be the “experience and expertise in past redistricting efforts” of Blue and Clodfelter. Rucho’s denial was stated as being based on “geographic representation” and “the preference that the committee not be stacked with lawyers.” But the report’s author, John Ruskin, speculated that both Nesbitt and Rucho were engaged in intentional wording that could become part of a “potential legal challenge to the . . . redistricting process” down the line.

As for the increase in the state’s population, with patterns that mean changes in the current district lines, heavy gains in the Raleigh and Charlotte metropolitan areas should result in more representation for those districts — obviously meaning a loss in other areas. WNC’s Congressional District 11,  for example, grew by 13.6 percent, but even with a gain, it deviates from its “ideal” by -4.1 percent. In the high-growth areas, Wake County grew by more than 43 percent over the 2000 census number, and Mecklenburg County by 32 percent, according to The Sun-News, which quoted an assessment by Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina: “Political power is going to follow people. Whether you’re talking about congressional districts, or whether you’re talking about legislative districts, these two big counties and the areas around them … are going to be like giant magnets.”

The people with the pencils, pens and computer charts who have to figure all this out are the 16 members of the Senate and 43 members of the House standing committees on redistricting. WNC committee senators include Republicans Tom Apodaca of Buncombe/Henderson counties and Ralph Hise of Avery/Haywood/Madison/McDowell/Mitchell/Yancey counties, and Nesbitt. WNC committee representatives are Republicans Roger West (one of three vice chairs) of Cherokee/Clay/Graham/Macon counties and Tim Moffitt of Buncombe County, and Democrats Susan Fisher of Buncombe County and Ray Rapp of Haywood/Madison/Yancey counties.

With a target date of May 15 for the drawing of the new maps set by Rucho, the public hearings got underway last Wednesday. Twelve meetings are scheduled, with a WNC hearing set for Saturday, April 30. That meeting will be located on the as UNC-Asheville, with video links to interact with people gathering at the Appalachain State University and Western Carolina University campuses. The meeting begins at 4 p.m; sign-up to speak begins an hour prior to the meeting. There is also limited sign-up online available five days before the hearing (but closed in the last 24 hours) by going to the Legislature’s Web site and clicking on the Redistricting tab. You may also go to the Redistricting tab to submit comments online.

In other General Assembly business, new bills brought forward by WNC legislators in the past week included the following:

Senate
SB 561 (Sedimentation Civil Penalty Cap & Remissions): Establishes a maximum cumulative civil penalty per land-disturbing first-time violation and requires that they be provided with remediation assistance. Passed first reading; referred to Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources.
Co-sponsor: Hise.

SB 572 (Omnibus County Bill): Establishes a Records Preservation Modernization Commission to study issues relating to records preservation standards, procedures and techniques; rewrites some provisions of the property tax exemption code. Passed first reading; referred to State and Local Government.
Primary sponsor: Jim Davis, Republican of Cherokee/Clay/Graham/Haywood/Jackson/Macon/Swain/Transylvania counties.

SB 583 (Law Enforcement on Interstate Highways): Allows only state law-enforcement agencies to conduct enforcement on interstate highways unless a local law enforcement agency has received a request from a state law-enforcement agency, or is responding to an emergency or investigating a crash. Passed first reading; referred to Judiciary I. Primary sponsor: Apodaca.

SB 594 (Firearms/State of Emergency): Allows transportation of a dangerous weapon or substance during a riot or declared state of emergency; prohibits local directive or ordinance that would allow or impose the taking/confiscation/seizure of any lawfully possessed firearms and ammunition, or additional restrictions prohibiting possession, carrying, transportation, sale, purchase, storage or use of lawfully possessed firearms. Passed first hearing; referred to Rules and Operations. Primary sponsor: Doug Berger, Republican

SB 604 (NC Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act): Amends Chapter 64 of the General Statutes by adding “Enforcement of Federal Immigration Laws,” allowing law-enforcement officers with “reasonable suspicion” that a detainee is not a legal resident to make a “reasonable attempt” to verify legal status (extended to occupants of a vehicle if there is reasonable suspicion). Filed. Co-sponsor: Hise.

SB 610 (Constitutional Convention/Balanced Budget Act): Petitions Congress to adopt and amendment to the Constitution requiring (with certain exceptions) that the federal budget be balanced, or alternatively, calling for a convention to propose such an amendment for submission to the states. Filed. Co-sponsor: Hise.

SB 627 (Annexation Reform): Establishes uniform requirements and deadlines for annexation procedures, and forbids annexation until a vote by the registered voters in the proposed annexation district have approved annexation by more than 50 percent. Filed. Primary sponsors: Apodaca, Davis.

by Nelda Holder, contributing editor

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