Experts say black lawmakers will likely lose seats under new North Carolina legislative maps

Senator Ernestine Bazemore and Senator Toby Fitch

Two incumbent black senators from eastern North Carolina have no chance of re-election in their newly selected precincts, according to an analysis by UCLA political scientist Jeffrey B. Lewis, who testified for Republicans at the Superior Court redistricting trial this month.

Sen. Ernestine Bazemore, a Bertie County Democrat, sits in a new 10-county district. According to Lewis, the candidate in this district that black voters prefer would almost always win the Democratic primary, but would have no chance of winning the general election.

The same would happen in the newly reconstituted district where Sen. Toby Fitch, a Wilson Democrat, lives.

The newly drawn districts would prevent black voters who live in parts of North Carolina’s Black Belt — counties with fertile soil worked by enslaved Africans and their pre-Civil War descendants — from electing their preferred Senate candidates. of State.

Black residents are in the majority in some of these counties, including Bertie, Halifax, Hertford and Northampton. They are part of a rural stronghold for Democrats in statewide elections.

The loss of black representation in the Legislative Assembly could be devastating, said Syene Jasim, a Black Voters Matter organizer in northeastern North Carolina.

“Having someone represents our interests – not just being black. That’s really the most important thing,” Jasim said in an interview.

States are required to draw new electoral districts after each census to account for population shifts, growth and decline. In North Carolina, lawmakers are drawing up plans to benefit the ruling party.

A “painfully obvious” change

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is representing Common Cause and the state’s NAACP in the redistricting lawsuit that claims the legislative plans dilute black voting power. Civil rights groups are suing several Republican lawmakers who drew the maps, claiming the plans are extreme gerrymanders that lock in GOP majorities and intentionally discriminate against minority voters. The Common Cause case is combined with redistricting lawsuits filed by two other groups of challengers.

The challengers lost at the trial court level earlier this month. Although they agreed that the Republicans had intentionally drawn partisan maps to benefit their party, the three presiding justices of the Superior Court said they could not stop it. The constitutional issues raised in the lawsuit do not apply to the redistricting, they wrote, and there are no facts to point to intentional racial discrimination.

The challengers are appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Before North Carolina lawmakers draw districts, the state map is divided into “groups of counties” based on population. Republicans had two options for clusters in northeastern North Carolina.

In October, lawyers for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice warned lawmakers they were using the option that was “obviously worse for black voters.” Republicans say they didn’t use partisan or racial data to draw the new maps.

But in an Oct. 25 letter, attorneys for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice wrote that lawmakers in the 10-county group were using “most certainly destroys the ability of black voters to elect the candidate of their choice,” something that ” would have been painfully obvious to anyone with passing familiarity with the political geography of North Carolina.

Senator Ralph Hise testifies on the latest maps. (Screenshot from trial video stream/WRAL.com)

Republican lawmakers drew the 10-county district to keep four counties together in the state’s northeast corner, Sen. Ralph Hise, co-chairman of his House’s redistricting committee, testified this month.

Before starting work on the new plans, Republicans rejected repeated requests from Democrats to study racially polarized voting in the state. Hise testified that they did not commission such a study because the US Department of Justice was no longer reviewing North Carolina’s redistricting plans.

For many years, the federal Voting Rights Act required states and counties with a history of racial discrimination in elections to obtain Justice Department approval before new precincts were used or new election laws come into force, a process called “preclearance.” The Justice Department could reject discriminatory election laws or redistricting maps that took power away from black or Latino voters.

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled that states subject to this preclearance requirement no longer had to do so.

Lawmakers needed a study of racially polarized voting in 2011 to comply with preclearance, Hise said. But since the 2013 decision, “we are no longer in preclearance to redraw the map,” he said.

Kathay Feng, common cause

A national trend

Legislatures across the country are diluting the power of black and Latino voters under the guise of race-blind redistricting, said Kathay Feng, national redistricting director at Common Cause. “We are definitely seeing a playbook that plays out state after state where lawmakers pretend to ignore race even as they mainstream racial dilution behind closed doors,” she said.

Civil rights groups are suing South Carolina lawmakers in federal court over that state’s new redistricting plan, saying it intentionally dilutes black voting strength.

The federal lawsuits also claim that Georgia’s New Congressional and Legislative Districts dilute black voting power, according to the Constitution of the Atlanta newspaper.

Texas lawmakers are facing a storm of lawsuits claiming their redistricting plans discriminate against voters of color.

And the Ohio Supreme Court last week rejected that state’s legislative and congressional redistricting plans, saying they violated state constitutional limits on partisan gerrymandering, according to Ohio Capital Journal.

“If you don’t have people in the state legislature who listen and truly represent all constituencies in the state, you will see a return to white supremacy,” Feng said. “It’s a real concern”

Lawyers reject GOP color blindness claims

Keisha Dobie of Elizabeth City said lawmakers’ assertion that they were working without using racial information was not a legitimate or sensible way to draw districts. “‘I don’t know how you can ignore what racial people are and where the majority of them reside,” she said. “I believe they had a plan.”

Dobie is a doctoral student and former teacher who learned about redistricting from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. She spoke to other residents about filling out the census, voting, community issues and the process of drawing new districts.

Dobie said in an interview that newly enacted district lawmakers point to an even greater need for public interest in redistricting, including among high school and college students.

“We need a different mindset,” she said. “Grassroots organizations need to play a different game and have a different level of response.”

Jasmin, the organizer of Black Voters Matter, said redistricting work should be taken out of the hands of lawmakers. Giving the job to an independent observer would be the fairest way to redraw, he said.

“I don’t understand how gerrymandering is legal,” Jasmin said.

Voting rights bill sitting in the US Senate would ban gerrymandering in the drawing of congressional districts and effectively restore the requirement for some states and counties to have new districts pre-approved by the US Department of Justice .

The bill is not expected to overcome the Senate filibuster.

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