North Carolina’s racially discriminatory maps show why voting rights law must be restored

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When North Carolina redrew its legislative and congressional districts 10 years ago, the Voting Rights Act required it — and other states with a history of racial discrimination — to submit their maps for review by the Department of Justice or a federal court before enforcing them. , a process known as pre-clearance. The current redistricting cycle is radically different.

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the formula in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that determined which states were subject to preclearance. In the years following this decision in Shelby County vs. Holder, the political deadlock in Congress thwarted efforts to update the formula and bring the Voting Rights Act back to full force. This failure allowed North Carolina to enact some of the most discriminatory district maps in its history after the 2020 census.

To fill the void left by an inactive Section 5, civil rights and good government groups in North Carolina rushed to court to challenge the maps. This ongoing litigation is a race against time as election deadlines approach. As the 2022 election approaches, it is more urgent than ever for Congress to pass the John R. Lewis Advancing Voting Rights Act to ensure communities of color have adequate protections.

Before Shelby County, the Section 5 preclearance process ended discriminatory patterns that would diminish the political influence of communities of color, an effect known as regression. North Carolina’s new congressional map is an example of why a pre-implementation review of discriminatory effects is needed.

North Carolina received an additional congressional seat after the 2020 census due to rapid population growth in communities of color, which accounted for nearly 90% of the state’s overall gains. Nonetheless, rather than increase electoral opportunities for voters of color, the legislature eliminated a historical majority-minority seat currently held by Rep. GK Butterfield (D), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Butterfield criticized the enacted plan as “racially gerrymandering” in a speech announcing his retirement, saying the map “will disadvantage African-American communities.”

Under full suffrage law, this card would have been investigated for regression. The DOJ would compare a covered jurisdiction’s proposed district plan to an internal “benchmark” plan – typically, the last non-discriminatory plan to have received prior approval or been established by a court, with adjustments made to account for demographic changes. If the analysis found that the new plan reduced electoral opportunities for voters of color, the DOJ would require revisions.

For North Carolina, the benchmark is the 2019 congressional map passed by a state court to remedy a pro-Republican gerrymander who violated the state constitution. The newly adopted congressional map differs from this court-established baseline in ways that will likely reduce the political influence of voters of color, even as their numbers have increased. In other words, a regression investigation may well have prevented this discriminatory map from taking effect.

The new district configuration eliminates one of the state’s two majority-minority districts and consolidates the non-white population into the other. A third district that was close to being majority non-white now has fewer people of color. Other districts largely see large population centers divided in a way that does not follow community lines or natural geographic boundaries. Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford counties, all home to large communities of color, are each split into three separate districts under the new plan. And Forsyth and Guilford counties are split, suggesting an effort to diminish the influence of black voters in and around the city of Greensboro, echoing maps from the past decade that have been found to violate the state constitution .

The chart below ranks North Carolina’s congressional districts from highest percentage of voting-age non-white population (a replacement for eligible voters) to lowest, and the arrow indicates how those percentages went from reference to the adopted plan.

Focusing on changes to the district Butterfield currently holds reveals more specific evidence of regression. By removing Greenville and various areas of eastern North Carolina, GOP mapmakers reduced the non-white voting-age population in the district from 52.4% to 49.4%, meaning that eligible voters in the district are now overwhelmingly white. The voting-age black population alone drops from around 41% under the old plan to around 38% under the new map, making it harder for black voters to elect their preferred candidate. While much of the district has remained the same, more than 62% of voting-age people added to the district are white, while nearly half of those who left the district are non-white. These changes around the margins, as shown in the map below, alter both the overall composition of the neighborhood and its political orientation.

As shown in the graph, the mapmakers cut out several non-white majority areas in the eastern part of the reference district and extracted majority white areas such as Caswell and Person counties. Politically, the once solidly Democratic district is becoming very competitive under the new map. Before announcing his retirement, Butterfield was on the Congressional Republican National Committee’s list of Democrats to target in the 2022 election cycle, underscoring how the map-drawing process in North Carolina is part of a larger effort. wide aimed at tipping the political balance. Too often, these partisan goals are achieved at the expense of fair representation of communities of color, especially in the absence of federal oversight. With preclearance relaunched, these changes would be analyzed by experts to ensure they do not reduce opportunities for voters of color.

Reinvigorated protections would also mean the district, including Charlotte — where minority voters were lumped into a single district and Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a three-to-one ratio — would face intense scrutiny. . The same goes for the lines that carve Greensboro, a heavily black city, into four distinct districts, each with a non-white voting-age population of about 30%.

Such a review would signal blatant backsliding and force legislatures to redraw maps deemed retrograde. North Carolina’s new plan, along with recent maps in Texas, Georgia, Alabama and other states, demonstrates the need for this pre-implementation review in order for voters of color to benefit from a basis of equity and do not have to precipitate litigation.

In his dissent in Shelby County, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that “throwing away preclearance when it has worked and continues to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing your umbrella in torrential rain because you don’t get wet.” She was right, and this redistricting cycle sparked a card monsoon that undermined the voting power of communities of color. Congress must face this moment and restore essential protections by passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

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