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How the General Assembly Can Make Redistricting Lawsuits Less Likely to Succeed

Lawsuits have overturned numerous legislative maps in North Carolina over the past several decades. The most recent example was a pair of lawsuits, Common Cause v. Lewis and Harper v. Lewis, which invalided state legislative and congressional districts in 2019, just ahead of the 2020 elections.

Just as surely as the Moon rolls around the Earth, there will be lawsuits about any redistricting plans generated this year.

However, even if we know that lawsuits are coming no matter what the North Carolina General Assembly does regarding redistricting, it makes sense for legislators to do what they can to make it less likely that those lawsuits would succeed. One way to do that is to follow clear nonpartisan standards.

I laid out those standards last February, starting with standards mandated by the North Carolina Constitution, federal law, or court decisions:

  • Equal representation (+/- 5% in the case of state legislative districts)
  • The district must be contiguous (but can cross bodies of water)
  • Counties cannot be split in drawing state legislative district (the “whole county” rule) except as required for equal representation.
  • Districts can only be drawn once every ten years unless mandated by court order
  • Do not draw districts to dilute the voting power of voters based on their race (Voting Rights Act)

(After the 2002 Stephenson v. Bartlett decision, North Carolina has balanced the whole county requirement and the equal representation requirement for General Assembly seats through a process called “county clustering.” Here is an excellent primer on how the county clustering process works.)

I also laid out other standards that would improve the redistricting process by banning the use of some political data and encouraging compactness.

  • No use of voter registration data
  • No use of past election results
  • No use of voter’s demographic data, except as needed to comply with the Voting Rights Act
  • Do not consider the addresses of incumbents when drawing districts
  • Make districts reasonably compact, consistent with other standards and North Carolina’s geography

Using political data for partisan advantage is what caused the maps the General Assembly drew in 2016 to be overturned by lawsuits in 2019. So, adhering to the standards listed here would both guild legislators in drawing better districts and help protect district maps from being successfully challenged in court.

Andy Jackson / Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity | John Locke Foundation