Partisan gerrymandering lawsuit calls for new legislative districts for 2020 elections

November 13, 2018

A lawsuit alleges that dozens of House and Senate districts statewide were drawn specifically to favor Republican candidates.

A new gerrymandering lawsuit calls for a court order requiring voting districts for the state House and Senate be redrawn before the 2020 elections.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Wake County by good-government group Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party and 22 voters from across the state, follows the path of another Common Cause lawsuit in which federal courts have twice found that Republican lawmakers illegally gerrymandered North Carolina’s congressional districts for partisan advantage.

“Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly have egregiously rigged the state legislative district lines to guarantee that their party will control both chambers of the General Assembly regardless of how the people of North Carolina vote,” the lawsuit states. “This attack on representative democracy and North Carolinians’ voting rights is wrong. It violates the North Carolina Constitution. And it needs to stop.”

Joseph Kyzer, a spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore, said the string of lawsuits over redistricting is what needs to stop.

“The Speaker’s Office is focused on serving the North Carolina voters this endless stream of litigation seeks to circumvent,” Kyzer said in an email.

“Democrats had no problem with the process they employed for over 100 years until they lost control of the General Assembly in 2010,” Pat Ryan, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem, added in an email. “This suit is a corrupt attempt at judicial gerrymandering, hoping the liberal state court will rewrite the Constitution and draw maps favorable to Democrats.”

Federal courts two years ago tossed the legislative district maps drawn in 2011, ruling that lawmakers put too much emphasis on the race of voters when laying down the lines for more than two dozen districts.

Lawmakers decided to ignore race completely when they redrew the map, choosing to focus on how people voted in recent elections as one of their criteria. But the lawsuit alleges that the new districts, which were drawn by a consultant on his personal computer, unfairly favored Republicans.

Independent analysts determined that the new House and Senate maps were more partisan for the GOP than under almost any other map that could have been drawn, according to the lawsuit. Despite North Carolina voters being fairly evenly split on statewide elections in recent years, the suit added, that new maps pretty much guaranteed Republicans would maintain a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly.

The lawsuit details allegations that 74 of the 120 House districts and 19 and the 50 Senate districts were drawn to pack Democratic voters into a few districts so Republicans would be favored in surrounding ones or to split Democratic areas between districts to dilute their voting power.

In Wake County, for example, the suit notes that Senate District 18 includes a finger that stretches through northwest Raleigh to encompass neighborhoods around three country clubs so more Republican voters could be included. Meanwhile, nearby Democratic-leaning neighborhoods were drawn into Senate District 15 by connecting areas inside Interstate 440 with portions of north Raleigh via a retail area off Wake Forest Road known primarily as the site of a Costco.

“The 2017 plans’ cracking and packing of Democratic voters worked with remarkable success in the 2018 elections,” the suit states. “While the Democratic wave did flip some seats, it could not overcome plans that were designed to guarantee Republicans majorities.”

Democratic candidates won a majority of the popular vote statewide in last week’s election but captured only 45 percent of the House seats and 42 percent of the Senate seats, the suit notes.

“The results should outrage anyone who believes in democracy,” the suit states. “The maps are impervious to the will of the voters.”

The lawsuit alleges the maps violate the state constitution’s guarantees of equal protection, free elections, free speech and free association and should be thrown out.

“Only North Carolina Democrats would file a lawsuit to overturn districts that they just won,” Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, said in a statement.

Update hourly