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February 25, 2016

Here's what really happened with redistricting. Republicans drew a pretty map. It looks constitutional. The Congressional districts are reasonably sized based on the state’s population distribution, and they are reasonably compact. But, the new, pretty map may be just as unconstitutional as the irregular looking one it replaced.

The 2011 Congressional Districts maps were unconstitutional because Republicans used race as an indicator to draw Congressional districts that packed African American voters together across multiple County lines. They said this as necessary to ensure the election of blacks to the US House of Representatives. But, this strategy also reduced the influence of African American voters in all but two of the 13 districts. In the 2012 elections, the makeup of North Carolina's Congressional delegation changed from 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans to 3 Democrats and 10 Republicans. Based on North Carolinas historic 50:50 Republican: Democratic vote split for Federal races, such a large shift was arguable due to the new, racially gerrymandered districts.

Various parties challenged these maps through the court system. On February 5, a Federal Court panel ruled Congressional Districts 1 and 12 unconstitutional based on racial gerrymandering. As expected, Republicans asked the US Supreme Court to put a stay on the ruling because North Carolina’s 2016 Primary Election absentee ballots had already been distributed. Most people expected the Supreme Court to agree and allow the 2016 election to move forward. Then Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died and a 4:4 split vote at the Supreme Court made that ruling less likely.

Still hoping Chief Justice Roberts would allow the Primary Election to proceed, Republicans scrambled to get new maps signed into law before the February 19 deadline. This required getting the maps drawn (SB2) and election guidelines drafted (HB2), calling an emergency meeting of the General Assembly, appointing the appropriate committees, filing bills in the NC House and Senate, holding public hearings, getting the bills passed in both chambers and signed by the Governor.

From the beginning Republicans made it clear they intended to draw maps that retained the 10 to 3 Republican: Democratic split in the State’s Congressional delegation. They were also clear they would accomplish that by using partisan voting patterns. That is, they would pack Democratic voters into districts to reduce their ability to influence the outcome in districts across the state. Not surprisingly, they did just that and not surprisingly because most African American voters are Democrats, the maps retained roughly the same racial distribution as the original maps.

The 2011 maps were unconstitutional because Republicans openly and intentionally drew district lines that packed blacks into a few districts, decreasing their influence statewide while ensuring their easy election in Districts 1 and 12. The 2015 maps may be ruled unconstitutional because Republicans failed to consider race when they drew the districts. As Rep. Mickey Michaux argued during the NC House debate, "Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (of 1965) blocks district lines that deny minority voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process to elect representatives of their choice." Packing Democratic voters into fewer districts has the same impact as packing black voters into fewer districts. Both approaches restrict the ability of black voters to elect representatives of their choice – in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

These maps will, of course, be challenged and, based on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and who the new president appoints to replace Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court; it is likely we will be called back into session to draw yet another set of Congressional District maps.

The second bill the General Assembly passed on February 19, HB2, voided the candidate filings for the old Congressional districts and set guidelines to elect our 13 representatives to the US Congress based on the newly established Congressional districts. The March 15 Primary still stands for all other elections.

The new congressional primary will be on June 7. Candidates can file for Congress March 16- 25, and they must have been affiliated with a political party for 75 days or more before filing. Because the new district lines are so different from the old, we will see several new names on the June ballot.

The 2016 elections are among the most important we have had in several decades. With the changes in the State's Congressional primary elections and the new Voter ID law in full force, North Carolina voters have a lot to consider, a lot to understand. This is a year where every vote really will count in every election.

As always, thank you for your support of my work in Raleigh as your representative. Please let me know of your position on issues, your suggestions for legislation and your requests for help.

Verla Insko

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Verla Insko, NC House · 300 N. Salisbury Street, Room 502 LOB · Raleigh, NC 27603-5925 ·
Phone (919) 733-7208 · Mobile (919) 618-9889 · E-mail verla.insko@gmail.com or verla.insko@ncleg.net