Some praise, mostly criticism, at final public hearings on proposed NC electoral maps
“It's a dragon, daddy.”
This was the reaction of one little girl when a Mecklenburg County resident asked what the map of Senate District 37 looked like to her. The father told this story during the third and final public hearing on the newly proposed electoral maps which were held Monday at sites statewide, coordinated via video conference link up.
The hearings came a week after the release of newly proposed voting district maps for the North Carolina House and Senate which are being redrawn to reflect new population data gained in the 2010 Census. While turnout was lower than earlier hearings on the national Congressional maps, comments from citizens – mostly critical of the maps – continued to be passionate.
Western Carolina University hosted the regional site for the hearings in Cullowhee at the Cordelia Camp Building, with Sen. Andrew Brock and staff from his office facilitating. The hearing was coordinated with the hearings at other regional sites in Mecklenburg, Guilford and Watauga counties. Speakers who chose to give public comments were broadcasted live on the video conference system, which rotated from one hearing site to the next, with each speaker limited to five minutes in which to comment. The hearings were scheduled to be held from 3 o'- clock in the afternoon to 9 o'clock that evening.
Across the state, the concerns of speakers ranged from potential infringements of the Voting Rights Act to divided communities of interest to threats, from specific legislative districts currently held by women to prohibitive costs associated with the proposed redistricting. Others, however, praised the maps saying the districts drawn by the Republican dominated General Assembly were more fair and competitive than the state has seen in years.
At WCU, only five members of the public signed up to speak before a break in the hearings which started around 5 p.m. Of those five, four were from Haywood County and three of those gave statements concerning the proposed division of the Crabtree and Iron Duff communities north of Waynesville into two different House districts: the 118th and the 119th.
John Vanderstar of Haywood County urged legislators to consider whether their proposed maps were consistent with the principles of the North Carolina Surpreme Court's landmark Stephenson v Bartlett case which was originally hailed by Republican legislators as a victory for voters.
Similar comments were heard at other hearing locations around the state, with many leveling accusations of overt political gerrymandering. As one speaker in Watauga commented, “The current proposed GOP drawn maps were clearly drawn with extreme voter confusion and voter disenfranchisement in mind. The formula was sinister. The Republican created maps do not respect historic neighbor relationships or representatives. It splits over 400 precincts in North Carolina using what looks like only race as a criteria.”
Ralph Slaughter, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party, who also spoke at WCU, asked that legislators consider better equalizing districts in the region. He noted that that with some simple adjustments between districts 119, 120 and 113, the principle of “one-man-one-vote” would be better upheld.
Public comments on the proposed voting districts are still being accepted online at http://www.ncleg.net/redistricting.
Alternatively, written comments can be mailed to:
300 N. Salisbury St., Suite 545
Raleigh, N.C. 27603-5925
Below are excerpts from selected comments heard during Monday's hearings.
— Janie Benson, Chairwoman of the Haywood County Democrats
“... The maps released last week reveal the precincts of Crabtree and Iron Duff as being in different districts. In a word, this is absurd. ... Crabtree and Iron Duff shared, and continue to this day to do so, the same schools, the same churches, the same community buildings and the same fire department. You would be hard-pressed to find a person who could define for you where the precinct lines are. These are two different areas that in many ways function as one entity. ... As we beseeched you to restore Asheville to the 11th Congressional District, we beseech you to keep Crabtree/Iron Duff in the 118th House District. ...”
— John Vanderstar, resident of Haywood County
“... The shoe is on the other foot – but it's the same shoe and that shoe is gerrymandering. Both parties have an obligation to avoid gerrymandering in the work they do on these district layouts. As you all know, in 2003, the North Carolina Surpreme Court issued finally its last significant opinion on the merits of the Stephenson v Bartlett case. A release that day, by the North Carolina Republican Party, noted that Republican plaintiffs brought that litigation and have prevailed at least 12 times in six different state and federal courts. ... The release from the Republican Party went on to say that the court determined ‘that politically neutral criteria based strictly upon the North Carolina Constitution must be used in establishing North Carolina legislative districts.’ The release went on praising the Stephenson case in these words: ‘This is a completely pro-voter ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court. It is a victory of fair redistricting over politically partisan rigged legislative districts. ... Throughout this redistricting lawsuit, we have consistently pursued the goal of fair electoral districts in which the voters choose elected officials rather than rigged districts where the elected officials choose voters.’ ... I would simply urge the legislature to look hard at these maps they have drawn and satisfy themselves in good conscience that they are not violating the principle of Stephenson v Bartlett which the Republican Party praised when the decision came out. ...”
— Matthew Snider, resident of Watauga County
“... The thing that stands out to me ... is that everything seems to be very competitive. After 100-plus years of the Democratically controlled legislature, I think it's nice to see something a little more competitive. Even though it might not be perfect, it's a change from keeping the same people in power for 100 years. Anytime anything goes on for 100 years, you have to wonder about the true rationale and reasoning behind how they drew the districts. ...”
— Statement read on behalf of William Osborne, Chairman of the Rockingham County Democratic Party
“... Splitting over 400 precincts into different districts violates the very concept of keeping communities whole and disrupts the most basic formation [principles] by making precincts almost unrecognizable and incoherent. In 2002, the N.C. State Supreme Court in the case of Stephenson v. Bartlett said that the whole county provision found in the N.C. State Constitution must be honored to the extent that it can be honored, consistent with the Voting Rights Act and other state and federal precepts. The court in Stephenson proscribed a systematic method for harmonizing the whole county provision with other laws. This redistricting plan makes a mockery of that Supreme Court ruling. If necessary, the Rockingham County Democratic Party is prepared to join the North Carolina Democratic Party in seeking judicial relief from this irresponsible redistricting plan. If the Republican Tea Party can not stand on the merits of its platform, then we respectfully request that you not force the citizens of North Carolina to stand with you. ...”
— Joanne Schlaginhaufen, first vice chair of the Guilford County Democratic Party
“... This plan lets Republicans choose their voters rather than their voters choosing them. It also furthers the overall agenda of denying minority voters their candidates of choice by moving rural population into rural districts. In seeking partisan advantage, the redistricting committee has split [Greensboro] into three separate districts so as to dilute and divide the community of interest. As a resident of Greensboro, I don't feel I would have a representative under this new plan. ... A plan that completely undercuts representation for the third largest city in the state is outrageous. ...”
— C. Bradley Hunt, political affairs chair, North Carolina NAACP, Greensboro Branch
“... We have several concerns with the map that has been proposed and do not believe it is in the best interest of North Carolina. In examining the shapes of the proposed Voter Rights Act districts, it is unclear to me how many of these configurations serve a compact area. It seems obvious that these lines have been drawn specifically to pick up pockets of black voters wherever they might be with little or no regard for anything else. That some of these proposed districts run three, four or even five counties in the shapes of various tentacled sea-creatures makes no sense to most residents who have arbitrarily been drawn into these districts. ...”