Redistricting that is not based on race? Democrats are incredulous about GOP maps

Ten years ago, North Carolina Republicans redrew the legislative districts of their state to support their party. A federal court found that this illegally deprived Black voters their right to representation in politics. Later, a state court ruled that Republican-drawn maps were based solely on partisanship.

Redistricting that is not based on race? Democrats are incredulous about GOP maps

As the GOP-controlled legislature begins this year's latest round of redistricting it has pledged to not use race or political data to draw the lines. The maps that Republicans propose would favor their party are still a strong indication of this. Numerous publicly available congressional maps dilute Democratic voters by dividing Charlotte, the state's largest city and its largest African American population centre, into three to four U.S. House district. This gives the GOP at most a 10-4 advantage in a state Donald Trump narrowly won last January.

North Carolina is among at least three states in which Republicans claim they are drawing maps without considering racial or party data as the redistricting process gets underway. These maps favor the GOP.

Democrats and civil rights groups are skeptical, noting that veterans lawmakers don't require a spreadsheet to find out where voters of different races and political parties live in their states. In certain situations, the Voting rights Act requires that districts be drawn where there are majority racial and ethnic minority voters.

Thomas Saenz, president and CEO of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said that this is the first time he's heard of redistricting. He is suing Texas Republicans for drawing maps without considering racial data. "I suspect that they are trying to set up litigation defense. They know the race data and know where the Black community is located. They also know the location of the Latino community.

Jason Torchinsky is the general counsel for the National Republican Redistricting Trust. He said that it's okay to ignore racial data in certain situations, such as the North Carolina and Texas cases.

Torchinsky stated, "It all depends on where you're at."

Drawing legislative lines can often be a raw partisan battle because the party that controls it can create districts to maximize its voter clout and scatter opposition voters so wide they cannot win majority support.

2019 was the year that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled federal courts can't overturn unfair maps based on partisanship. State courts can still void maps if they are too partisan or if there is a violation of the law regarding redistricting.

Mapmakers who explicitly seek to undermine voters' power based upon race may be violating the U.S. Constitution's guarantee that equal protection is provided. The Voting Rights Act mandates that they consider race when the state has "racially-polarized" voting. This means that white voters consistently vote against candidates who are backed by minorities racial and ethnic groups. To elect their preferred candidates, the mapmakers will need to create a district where that minority has a majority or plurality of voters.

Republicans claim they can't win.

"It's a conundrum, and has been for ten years for the GOP. Because when we look at race we were told that we shouldn't, and those maps had to be struck down," stated Paul Newton, a North Carolina state senator who co-chairs the state's redistricting commission. "Now that we don't look at race, the Democrat Party tells us, 'Oh you should be looking at Race'."

The redistricting legal battle in North Carolina is one reason why the new raceblind approach has caught on.

The Republican-controlled legislature has complete control of redistricting; its maps cannot be vetoed by its Democratic governor. In 2016, a federal court found that North Carolina Republicans had improperly crammed Black voters in two congressional districts to weaken African American votes. The court ordered that the map be redrawn. This updated map formed the basis for the 2019 Supreme Court case.

Two months later, however, a North Carolina court found that the GOP advantage in certain redrawn state legislative map maps still violated state constitution. This and other rulings led Republicans to redraft the maps in late 2019 claiming they didn't consider racial and partisan data. They passed legal scrutiny.

In August, the legislature adopted a rule that it would not consider race or partisanship when drawing its next line. This was after the U.S. Census Bureau had released data about population growth over the past decade. The legislature noted that during the decade-long litigation, a federal court had ruled that the state did not have racially polarized voter and therefore didn't need to pay special attention to racial data.

Democrats and civil rights organizations strongly objected. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice sent a warning letter to Republicans, warning them that they would be disenfranchising Black voters and Latino voters. Allison Riggs (head of the voting rights program for the group) stated that "they're not listening".

Other GOP-controlled states follow North Carolina's lead. Texas has been accused of violating federal law and the U.S. Constitution during redistricting. This includes shortchanging Black voters and Latino voters. The Republicans in control of the state Legislature stated that they would not consider racial information, and their lawyers agreed.

"I've stated that, and I'll repeat it -- we drew those maps race blind," Texas state senator Joan Huffman, who is a Republican who created the maps for Texas, said at one Senate hearing.

Despite the fact that Texas has seen a large increase in its population from Latinos and African Americans, it does not appear that Texas maps will create new majority Black or Latino areas. This is the reason Latino civil rights groups sued Texas last week to get their maps approved.

"The only way that communities of color can receive justice is by going to the courts," stated Rafael Anchia, Democratic State Representative and chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

The Ohio Republicans are also involved in litigation regarding their state legislative plan. They claim it was drawn without any racial or political data. It is illegal to use race when drawing districts. It's against federal law," Matt Huffman, Republican State Senate President, told reporters last month.

Ohio Republicans claimed that they used no partisan data but were sued by anti-gerrymandering and community groups for drawing a map of partisanship.

Freda Levenson (legal director of ACLU of Ohio), said that the map's performance "skews partisan outcomes in Ohio." She was one of the plaintiffs. It's highly likely that they used partisan data.

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