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Politics

Some Mecklenburg County voters to be paired with Iredell County in proposed NC Senate map

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N.C. General Assembly
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All 16 proposed "county cluster" maps pair Mecklenburg County with Iredell County.

North Carolina legislators started the map-making process Tuesday for new state Senate and House districts based on new population data from the 2020 census, with Democrats pressing Republicans to consider the impact of the maps on Black voters.

Republicans were sued repeatedly in the last decade over their congressional and state legislative maps. They were accused of diluting the voting power of Black voters by either packing them into certain districts or splitting them into two districts.

The GOP drew the maps in 2011 after winning majorities in the General Assembly in 2010.

For this year’s map-making, the GOP passed criteria that said map-makers would not use data about people’s race or how precincts have historically voted.

During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Democrats pressed Republicans on the Senate redistricting committee as to whether they would look at how so-called “county clusters” for state legislative seats would impact Black voters and whether they would violate the Voting Rights Act.

Republican state Sen. Ralph Hise said he believed the clusters and districts would not violate the Voting Rights Act. But he said legislators would not consider racial data in drawing maps.

“Racial data is not available in the system and can not be produced for the committee,” Hise said. “It will not be considered by this committee consistent with its criteria.”

Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, has represented plaintiffs in gerrymandering lawsuits against North Carolina legislators. She wrote on Twitter after the meeting that “These folks are out to kill the VRA, don’t be fooled.”

The Senate redistricting committee started the process by considering 16 maps of county clusters drawn by non-partisan experts, including Western Carolina political science professor Chris Cooper and Duke University mathematician Jonathan Mattingly.

Because North Carolina’s constitution says counties must be kept intact for state House and Senate districts, creating the clusters is the first step before drawing actual districts.

Mecklenburg County will continue to have five state senate seats, which will likely all favor Democrats. But because of population growth, about 30,000 county residents will be paired with another county. All 16 cluster maps pair Mecklenburg with Iredell County, which usually votes for Republicans.

That means residents of Davidson and possibly Cornelius will likely be paired with voters from Mooresville and Statesville.

Depending on where GOP map-makers draw the boundaries, Democratic state Sen. Natasha Marcus could be put into a conservative district that’s already represented by Republican Vickie Sawyer.

Marcus asked that more public hearings be held after the committee votes on which county cluster map will be used. After that map is approved, lawmakers will begin drawing legislative districts inside those clusters.

The Senate committee did not discuss drawing districts for North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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