This story originally published online at NC Policy Watch. 

Democrats would win more legislative races in redistricting plans Republicans presented Wednesday, but in some ways the debate over how to draw new maps in ways the state Supreme Court required seemed to go back to where it started last year.

Democrats questioned the lack of racially polarized voting study, which House and Senate Republicans said was not needed.

Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue said Senate Republicans did not repair districts judges cited as problems. The Senate redistricting committee approved its new plan for districts on a voice vote, with some members voting against it.

“It does not address the issue the court said to address,” Blue said later. “It’s still a partisan gerrymander.”

By the end of the day Wednesday, the House had a new plan for its districts, and a Senate committee had approved a revised map for Senate districts. The House and Senate each released proposed congressional district maps, but they were not publicly debated.

House approval of the revised plan for state House distracts was delayed for hours as Republican leaders in that chamber negotiated a deal with Rep. Robert Reives, the chamber’s Democratic leader. The results were changes in Republicans’ new proposed map to districts in Wake, Buncombe, Cabarrus, and Mecklenburg. The House approved a revised redistricting plan 115-5.

“What we were trying to do is accomplish what we thought the court wanted us to do,” Reives said after the vote. Neither side got all they wanted in the negotiation, Reives said.

“If you took the court opinion as a whole, if you took the stated positions of the plaintiffs, the stated positions of the defendants, we’re at a map now that provides a path to the majority for Democrats, if statewide Democrats are successful,” he said.

The House plan now goes to the Senate for a vote.

Legislators are rushing to approve new redistricting plans for the congressional and legislative elections to meet a Friday deadline to submit them to a trio of Superior Court judges for review. The Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the new GOP-drawn congressional and legislative districts enacted last year and ordered new redistricting maps that do not devalue Democratic votes. The plans Republican legislators enacted last year skewed heavily to GOP advantage, giving Republicans a chance to win supermajorities in both chambers that would withstand shifting political sentiments.

Unlike the map-drawing of last year, legislators this time made no display of transparency. All the work was done behind closed doors.

House Democrats initially disapproved of the new districts Republicans proposed Wednesday morning. It moved out of the House Redistricting Committee with no Democratic votes.

The question whether the legislature needs to do a study of racially polarized voting or draw districts in eastern North Carolina that would give Black voters the chance to elect candidates of their choice was raised last year and remains a sticking point.

Rep. Destin Hall, the House Redistricting Committee chairman, defended the revised plan for state House seats as Democrats questioned the lack of a study of racially polarized voting.

In a letter to legislative leaders Tuesday, lawyers with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represented Common Cause in the redistricting case,  said the legislature needs to determine whether there is racially polarized voting in parts of the state, which would require drawing districts where Black voters have the chance to elect candidates of their choice. The lawyers’ letter quoted from the Supreme Court order:

“The General Assembly must first assess whether, using current election and population data, racially polarized voting is legally sufficient in any area of the state such that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of a district to avoid diluting the strength of African-American voters.”

Hall told the committee he saw the lawyers’ letter, but that the expert Republicans hired to analyze districts and testify at the redistricting trial, Jeffrey Lewis of UCLA, determined that a district with a majority Black voting population did not need to be drawn.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, proposed changes to districts in Wayne, Duplin and surrounding counties to create a district where Black voters would be able to elect the candidate of their choice.

Hall urged House members to vote against the amendment. “It would make the entire map illegal,” he said.

Harrison’s amendment failed 50-70. She was one of five Democrats to vote against the revised House plan.

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