A new redistricting map released by North Carolina Republicans has been called many things, from disappointing to diabolical. It has the normally tranquil Rep. Mel Watt seething, and local Democrats and civil rights activists angry.
Their primary concern is the way the map packs African-American voters into the two districts represented by the state’s two Black congressional lawmakers, Watt and Rep. G.K. Butterfield, significantly diluting their voting power. For example, because they are reliable Democratic voters, consolidating them in the two districts could strengthen the competitiveness of Republicans in other districts in which Black Democrats would have little to no influence on the outcome.
Watt, who suspects there will be a nasty legal battle, said in a statement his office issued that the map’s creators have “gone out of their way” to pack his district with African-American voters, which he called disappointing and “a sinister effort to use African-Americans as pawns in their effort to gain partisan, political gains in Congress.”
Maiysa Mesba, a student at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, told local radio station WFAE 90.7 that Republicans are using a “separate but equal philosophy” to justify segregating Blacks in the two districts.
Michael Bitzer, a professor at Catawba College, said that redistricting is a particularly messy process in North Carolina, which has ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court the last three times it has redrawn its electoral map.
“For folks like me who study this kind of thing, North Carolina is a gold mine,” he said. “Because so many of the key court cases that help to basically decide what gerrymandering is, what redistricting principles are allowed, have come out of North Carolina.”
On Thursday, the state will hold a series of public hearings on the map and voters are encouraged to become both informed and involved. In a public letter posted by Brent Laurenz of North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform, he writes that redistricting is an extremely important issue that nobody pays attention to, but it provides voters with an opportunity to share their views with decision makers.
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