Lawmakers convene in Raleigh today as Republicans aim to make the most of their last days with a veto-proof majority. The General Assembly will be tasked with setting requirements for what qualifies as a valid voter ID. Under a draft bill, student IDs issued by UNC-system schools would count. Last week, we spoke with Representative David Lewis, chairman of the elections and ethics law committee, about voter ID and redistricting.
Republican leaders of the general assembly are now the targets of two lawsuits over the state’s election maps regarding partisan gerrymandering. The latest one brought by the NC Democratic Party and the group Common Cause challenges the General Assembly map. As for the lawsuit over the state’s congressional map, the U.S. Supreme Court could choose to hear that next year.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Lisa Worf: In terms of non-citizens voting, wouldn’t a student ID not prevent a non-citizen from voting?
David Lewis: That is a concern. We'll just have to work with universities and work with the students and remind them that it is a felony to register improperly, which is what that would mean. The Department of Transportation, the federal government have very easily understood standards in order for an I.D. to be issued. Whenever you vary from that list, you do open yourself up to the possibility that someone who wanted to find a loophole in the system would find it easier to do so. However, with the goal of everyone being able to fully exercise their right and everyone being able to access an ID, if they do not have one, we are going to air, I believe, on the side of the voter
Worf: What are your thoughts on the newest lawsuit challenging the statehouse and senate maps?
Lewis: It’s almost comical….I think it’s simply part of a national sue-to-blue movement, where national groups are trying to utilize the courts because they can’t win at the ballot box. I think the absurdity of the case is going to make it stand out and I’m looking forward to getting it quickly disposed of.
Worf: You once famously said that the state's congressional map has 10 Republican-leaning districts because you couldn't draw a map with 11. The Democrats believe that's a smoking gun in their case as far as the congressional maps go and partisan gerrymandering. Do you regret saying that?
Lewis: Politics was not the only criteria. Had politics been the only criteria. I believe it would have been possible to have drawn a map that had twelve Republican-leaning districts. You know, that clip that is often played of mine was at the end of a two-week process, what normally takes six months. And what I was saying was you could not have drawn more than 10 Republican-leaning seats and followed all of the criteria. Politics was a criteria, one of the criteria because you cannot take politics out of an inherently political process. I do not believe in any way shape or form that the Democratic Party is unorganized or unwise. And the amount of money and the amount of effort that they spent trying to win seats that are currently held by Republicans, including the 9th district, the 2nd district, and the 13th district - if they didn't think they had a shot to win those, they wouldn't have competed in them as hard as they did. And, in fact, they came pretty close. So, I believe, that our districts are drawn fairly. I think everybody has a full and equal opportunity to participate and, I believe, that the lawsuit is bogus.
Worf: What purpose does redistricting serve, drawing very heavily on looking at how many districts one party can win?
Lewis: I don't know that it serves a purpose. As I said, what I tell my voters - and I face them every two years - is that I'm going to follow the law. The law requires me to draw districts that have equal population. It requires me to respect things like county borders and municipal borders. It requires me to try to keep precincts whole because that makes election administration easier. But the bottom line is at some point in the process a line is going to have to be drawn here or there. And I'm just honest enough with my constituents to tell them that when it gets to that point that I will apply a partisan lens which way the line should be drawn. At no time has politics been the dominant factor in the drawing of our maps, which is what the plaintiffs continue to accuse us of.