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Senate, House committees amend maps ahead of Tuesday floor votes

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(The Center Square) – Members of the state House and Senate are expected to take floor votes on state legislative and congressional redistricting maps on Tuesday, following committee approvals on Monday.

The Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee advanced what political observers believe is the more competitive of two congressional district maps unveiled last week, Senate Bill 757, after minor changes.

Statewide election data included in the bill suggests the legislation will lean 10 of the state’s 14 U.S. House districts in favor of Republicans, three favor Democrats, and one in the eastern part of the state is considered competitive. The current delegation is a 7-7 split between the parties after court-appointed special masters redrew maps for the 2022 midterms, a split that 1,000 computer simulations produced as only 1.7% likely.

Prior to the 2022 midterms, the split was 9-4 GOP in 2013-15 and 10-3 in 2015-17, 2017-19 and 2019-21. The state’s voter rolls, as of this past Saturday, are nearly even thirds for the more than 7.3 million registered – 36.4% unaffiliated, 32.8% Democrats and 30.1% Republicans.

SB757 puts three Democratic incumbents in districts that may be difficult to win next year: Rep. Kathy Manning in District 6, Rep. Wiley Nickel in District 13, and Rep. Jeff Jackson in District 14. The bill also makes District 1 represented by Rep. Don Davis more competitive.

North Carolina’s redistricting process is drawing national attention for its potential to shift the political landscape in Washington, where Republicans currently hold a slim 221-212 majority in the U.S. House, with vacancies in Rhode Island and Utah.

The Senate committee on Monday also approved Senate Bill 758 for new state Senate districts after minor changes requested by Democrats in Guilford and Durham counties that do not shift the partisan leanings of the districts.

Senate Democrats raised questions about how Republicans crafted districts in New Hanover County. They say the districts target Black precincts to ensure “they’re an insignificant portion of the voting population.”

Sen. Warren Daniels, R-Burke, stressed “this map was not drawn using any racial criteria,” though Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, noted “it is clear in this process we used political information in drawing these maps.”

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Wake County also suggested Republicans targeted female Democratic senators by double-bunking incumbent Sens. Natasha Marcus, a Democrat, and Republican Vickie Sawyer in Mecklenburg County, and Democratic Sens. Lisa Grafstein and Jay Chaudhuri in Wake County.

“You’re just doing it for some reason … that can’t be political,” Blue said, concluding lawmakers have “some animus against women.”

Chaudhuri has seniority in the party over Grafstein. Differing party affiliation defines the other.

The Senate is expected to hold floor votes on both the state Senate and congressional map on Tuesday.

In the lower chamber, the House Redistricting Committee debated and approved House Bill 898 to set new district boundaries for the state’s 120 House districts. Rep. Destin Hall, R-Watauga, noted the map was drawn with the help of a consultant with instructions from House leaders.

HB898, he said, contains fewer precinct splits that the map used in 2022, does not double bunk any incumbents running for reelection, and was crafted without using racial data.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, highlighted recent analysis from Duke University researchers that suggests Republicans can secure a supermajority even when Democrats win a majority of votes statewide. She and others also raised questions about whether the House map and others comply with the Voting Rights Act.

“These maps are not going to reflect the electorate of North Carolina,” she said.

Harrison and House Minority Leader Robert Reives of Durham County both raised issues with the process for drawing and approving the new redistricting maps, as well, pointing to calls from activists for more public comment and transparency. Lawmakers held public comment opportunities across the state this month.

“My concern as we go forward is how people feel about the process,” Reives said. “Republican courts and Democrat courts have both felt we have to do better at different times.”

The House Redistricting Committee ultimately voted 12-5 to approve HB898 after adopting several minor amendments requested by Democrats. Hall said the House Rules Committee will vote on the bill on Tuesday morning before it heads to a floor vote in the afternoon.

The House Redistricting Committee is also expected to take up the state Senate and Congressional maps once approved in the upper chamber.

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