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North Carolina Ordered To Redraw Districts


North Carolina lawmakers are on deadline. They must redraw their voting districts by the end of the week. Now, last year, a federal court ruled that 28 legislative districts were unconstitutional. With us to talk about this is Tom Bullock, a political reporter with member station WFAE in Charlotte, N.C. Hi, Tom.


MARTÍNEZ: So what makes those districts unconstitutional?

BULLOCK: Well, the courts found that they were illegal racial gerrymanders, specifically 28 of the 170 state legislative districts. And how they found that is the maps actually go back - they were drawn in 2011. And back then, the Republicans who were in charge of the process used race in these districts very deliberately and specifically. And the court said, you've packed too many African-American voters into these 28 racially gerrymandered districts, and that's unconstitutional because what it does is dilute their voting power and influence in more surrounding districts. So it diminishes their voice overall with the state legislature.

MARTÍNEZ: And the person who drew those maps in 2011 is drawing these new maps?

BULLOCK: That's exactly right, Dr. Tom Hofeller. Now, there are some changes this time. The Republicans have voted to not use race at all when it comes to drawing these new districts. But Dr. Hofeller is known for using all kinds of other big data ways to gerrymander specific districts. And these ways - they're basically legal, but they're very controversial. And, in fact, another map that he drew in Wisconsin is going to appear before the Supreme Court in the Supreme Court's next session.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the maps were released last weekend, and people got a chance to weigh in this week. What's the reaction been in the state?

BULLOCK: Well, overall, it's been very negative. Most of the complaints have really been about the process. North Carolinians, or at least the ones who spoke at these meetings - they wanted politics out of districting. They don't think the politicians should be able to pick their voters. And the meeting went on for about four, four and a half hours. All kinds of different satellite sites video conferenced in Raleigh lawmakers. Also, keep in mind that the data that showed why they were drawn the way they were drawn was not rolled out until Monday. And then this public comment came on Tuesday. So a lot of members of the public said, hang on a second. We want more time to be able to sit down and think about this.

MARTÍNEZ: The Republicans have supermajorities in the State, House and Senate. What sort of impact would these new maps have on those majorities? I mean, would Republicans stay in charge?

BULLOCK: Well, that's the big question. And reaction on that is completely mixed right now. I spoke with one state senator, a Republican named Jeff Tarte. He thinks that they're in danger - the Republicans are in danger of losing their supermajority. When it comes to political analysts, people who kind of dig through the data, you'll find more of a mixed reaction. You'll find some who say there's a chance that Democrats could break that supermajority. And there are others who say, frankly, the person who's drawing these maps that we just spoke about - he's too good. He knows what he's doing - that they think the supermajorities will stay.

MARTÍNEZ: How do these maps fit into the larger issues going on in the state right now?

BULLOCK: In a lot of different ways. Let's start with the big one, which is race and politics in North Carolina. When you look at North Carolina's track record in the Supreme Court just this last session, three laws were struck down as targeting African-Americans. That is kind of the perception here. This is really brought back to the forefront - this view that Republicans running the state legislature are targeting African-American voters or trying to potentially suppress their vote. And the Republicans counter that argument by saying, we're not looking at race specifically with these new maps. What we're looking at is politics. Political gerrymandering is distasteful for a lot of people, but it is still legal. And you can't really easily separate the two issues in a place like North Carolina because, broadly - and I'm just speaking in broad terms - African-American voters tend to vote for Democrats. So Republicans say they're just trying to do what's legal and gain a partisan advantage. The opponents see it very, very differently.

MARTÍNEZ: Reporter Tom Bullock in Charlotte - Tom, thanks a lot.

BULLOCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.