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Remap transparency order means live video, lottery machine

September 10, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A court-ordered directive for more openness in the North Carolina redistricting process is leading to actions directed at improving public access and transparency.

The state House and Senate redistricting committees on Tuesday started live-streaming their meetings, where they are working to meet a Sept. 18 deadline that state judges set to enact new boundaries. While the General Assembly already posts live audio for most legislative committees on its website, video feeds have only occurred through news media.

When judges last week declared that district maps approved in 2017 violated the state constitution by injecting boundaries with extreme partisan bias to favor Republicans, they ordered the remapping be conducted “in full public view.”

“At a minimum, this requires all map drawing to occur at public hearings, with any relevant computer screen visible to legislators and public observers,” the judges wrote in ordering nearly 80 House or Senate districts in regional or county clusters to be redrawn. “Given what transpired in 2017, the court will prohibit legislative defendants and their agents from undertaking any steps to draw or revise the new districts outside of public view.”

The judges have cited evidence that Republican mapmaker Thomas Hofeller privately drew most of the districts in 2017 weeks before lawmakers even established mapmaking criteria.

The judges’ order has led to livestreams of legislative staff workers as they crunch numbers involving potential replacement maps.

In keeping with the transparency theme, the Senate on Tuesday also brought in a state lottery machine with pingpong balls inside to pick certain potential maps at random. The rattling of the numbered balls could be heard on the livestream as corresponding base maps were picked from five options for each of the Senate’s seven clusters being redrawn.

The Senate committee was ahead of the House in laying out a process to generate base maps that each chamber would debate. The full House and Senate must vote on each set of replacement maps, and the maps can’t be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

The Republican-led committees’ challenge was to winnow options from 1,000 House and 1,000 Senate simulated maps generated by Jowei Chen, a University of Michigan redistricting expert who testified for the plaintiffs in a redistricting trial. Chen uses a computer algorithm that doesn’t input partisan data, meaning that maps generated from it are more likely to withstand the judges’ scrutiny, Republican leaders said.

Senate Democrats opposed details of the Senate’s GOP plan, in part because the 1,000 maps take into consideration where incumbents from 2011 and 2017 lived. Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, said the incumbency considerations tainted the maps because those lawmakers were elected under unconstitutional maps.

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