Lawmakers meet to begin work on new congressional maps - | WBTV Charlotte

Lawmakers meet to begin work on new congressional maps

(Nick Ochsner | WBTV) (Nick Ochsner | WBTV)
RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) -

Lawmakers met in Raleigh Tuesday to begin the process of drawing new maps many hope will never be used.

The Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting met for nearly four hours to discuss and vote on criteria legislative staffers would use in drawing new congressional districts.

Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore appointed state senators and representatives from both parties to the committee in the wake of a ruling handed down in late January declaring two of the state's congressional districts unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel ruled North Carolina's first and twelfth congressional districts must be re-drawn because, the court ruled, race was the primary factor in drawing the districts.

The District Court ruling required new maps to be drawn by this Friday, February 19. That decision is currently on appeal at the US Supreme Court, where state leaders have asked Chief Justice John Roberts to stay the lower court's decision until after the upcoming March 15 primary.

Last week, Roberts indicated he would rule on a possible stay by as early as today. The committee adjourned for the day with tentative plans to meet again Wednesday afternoon if a stay had still not been granted.

Many of the guidelines proposed during the meeting passed along party lines. Among the criteria approved by the committee, were decisions to not consider race at all when drawing districts, to preserve the 10-3 Republican majority districts and to keep districts as compact as possible.

During debate over the proposal to preserve the 10-3 Republican majority, Rep. Lewis openly acknowledged it process was gerrymandering, which he said was allowed under the law.

In response to a question from one Democrat member, Lewis said he favored a 10-3 map because he had yet to find a way to draw an 11-2 map.

"We are drawing these lines so we get to pick our voters instead of them coming to us," Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram (D-Bertie) said.

One guideline that gained bipartisan support was a proposal to re-shape the 12 District, which currently snakes along I-85 from Charlotte to Greensboro.

The district was first drawn by Democrats in the early 1990s and has been the subject of multiple court challenges. Democrat Representative Alma Adams, from Guilford County, currently represents the district.

At the end of the meeting, Republicans and Democrats spent roughly an hour debating how each side would be able to draw its proposed maps.

Under legislative rules, if Democrats want to challenge the maps drawn by Republicans, they must be able to offer a complete alternative--including all 13 districts, not just the ones they object to.

Ultimately, it was decided that each party would be allotted $25,000 to spend on mapmakers and consultants. Each party would also have access to a separate computer with the map-making software to work on their proposed lines.

The computer used by Republicans will only have information that the committee voted to include as factors in the map-making process. Democrats indicated they would use a wider set of criteria.

If the Supreme Court does not stay the ruling, a special session of the legislature could be called as early as Thursday.

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