GOP Map Maker Behind NC's Illegal Districts Will Help Redraw The Map

Jul 26, 2017

New boundaries for NC Senate seats drawn by advocacy group Common Cause
Credit Via NCGA

It's been nearly eight weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 28 state legislative districts in North Carolina were illegal racial gerrymanders. The political maps, the court said, must be redrawn.  

On Wednesday, a select group of state senators and representatives sat down to officially begin that process.

And politicians can do a lot in two months. Or very little. So the big question just before the Select Joint Committee on Redistricting was gaveled to order was this: have Republican lawmakers used that time to already produce possible new maps for House and Senate seats?

Nope.

"As you are aware, the General Assembly will be redrawing legislative districts this year to comply with a court order," said Representative David Lewis, co-chair of the committee. But he quickly added, "As we await further guidance from the court on how to proceed and how this process should be conducted, we wanted to convene today's meeting for organizational and informational purposes."

Translation, no real work has been done. At least not by the Republican leaders of the General Assembly.

But there were new maps presented at the meeting, drawn by the advocacy group Common Cause. Of which Lewis said, "In full disclosure that organization is currently involved as plaintiffs in litigation that has been filed against the General Assembly."

As for Lewis's reference to waiting for court guidance, that may come soon. The same Federal panel of judges which first found the districts were illegal racial gerrymanders is holding a hearing Thursday on just when new maps must be drawn, by whom, and whether or not a special election must be held before the General Assembly meets next year.

But even though there was no real work done at this meeting, it produced a lot of important information.

First, when asked by a Democrat if the Republican leadership will redraw the districts to seek their own partisan advantage, Lewis dodged the question. "It will be the prerogative of this committee to determine what the criteria are in the drawing of the maps."

Now gerrymandering for partisan political gain is currently legal, though there are some exceptions. Remember this redistricting was ordered because the current map packed African-American voters into 28 legislative districts, itself a kind of partisan advantage since, broadly, African-American voters tend to go for Democrats.

And, due to a question asked by Senator Terry Van Duyn, we now know the man who helped guide the hands that drew the maps struck down by U.S. Supreme Court, is coming back.

VAN DUYN: "That was Tom Hofeller, will he be involved in this process again?

LEWIS: "Yes."

Dr. Tom Hofeller is based in Virginia, but he's become the GOP map making consultant across the country. Hofeller combines big data and redistricting to gain the biggest partisan advantage possible. Employing techniques like Efficiency Gap calculations, a way to figure out how a political party can gain a majority of seats even if they garner a minority of votes.

Besides his work here, Hofeller and his team provided technical support to the Republican controlled Wisconsin legislature when they last drew their districts. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide if that map breaks the law in its next session.

The final thing gleaned from this redistricting meeting is all about time. As in when the new maps will be finished. Here's what Representative David Lewis had to say, "If the court allows us ample time to do so, we intend to take in as much public input as possible. And as much input from the committees and ultimately the full General Assembly will deliberate together regarding these new districts."

Lewis added he figured the maps would be done in mid-November.

Which would make it hard for a special election to be held before the General Assembly convenes next spring.

But the federal court may not be good with that timeline. And they are paying very close attention to what work is, or is not currently being done.

Arguably the most important person in the committee meeting was not a senator or representative. Not a Democrat or Republican. But a stenographer transcribing every word for further examination by the court.