RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Map-makers are proposing new districts for members of the North Carolina Senate, a move forced after a federal court ruled state Republicans illegally gave too much emphasis to race in the current version of legislative groupings.
The state Senate map was released ahead of a statewide public hearing scheduled Tuesday. State lawmakers are expected to finalize new House and Senate district lines next week.
The Senate map matches the House proposal by drawing four new districts with no current lawmakers living in them and four districts potentially pitting two incumbents against each other.
A fifth Senate seat will also be open next year after Republican Sen. Tommy Tucker said earlier this month he wasn't seeking re-election in his Union County district.
While Republicans control both chambers and can draw the boundaries to their liking, the new legislative maps will be reviewed by a three-judge panel of federal judges. The judges ordered new maps drawn, approved and presented to the court by Sept. 1. They are not subject to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto.
Republicans currently hold 74 of the 120 House seats and 35 of the 50 Senate seats. Not all districts had to be redrawn because of the 28 House and Senate districts found to have illegally weakened the political power of black voters.
The Senate's redistricting chief, Republican Sen. Ralph Hise, on Monday cited decisions by lawmakers earlier this month to draw new districts that consider how areas voted in the past but exclude the racial makeup of those living within those boundaries.
"We believe drawing a map that follows these criteria will ensure we fully comply with the court's order," Hise said in an emailed statement.
One senator announced almost simultaneously with the map's release that he would not seek re-election next year. The map proposed placing Sen. Chad Barefoot in the same Wake County district as fellow Republican Sen. John Alexander.
Barefoot didn't return an email seeking comment Monday. He said in a statement he wanted to spend more time with his family after six years in the Senate.
The map-makers also designed two districts potentially pitting incumbent Republicans against each other and a third pairing sitting senators from rival parties.
Democratic Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram of Northampton County would have to contest Republican Sen. Bill Cook of Beaufort County in the same northeastern North Carolina district.
Republicans Sens. Joyce Krawiec of Forsyth County and Republican Dan Barrett of Davie County are placed in the same district. He was selected last week to fill the seat vacated earlier this summer by the resignation of Sen. Andrew Brock. Barrett is waiting for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to finalize his appointment.
Republican Sens. Deanna Ballard of Watauga County and Shirley Randleman of Wilkes County are placed in a multi-county district in the Appalachian mountains.
Democrats and their allies reacted by claiming the revised maps were drawn in order to protect a Republican super-majority in both chambers rather than representing North Carolina's evenly divided political landscape.
"How can the public trust legislators elected from illegal districts to draw fair maps, especially when they use the same mapmaker and highly partisan goals?" the group Democracy North Carolina said in a statement. "The illegal maps have protected legislators from being held accountable by voters" by allowing the vast majority of incumbents to face little opposition.