by Dr. Andy Jackson
Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, John Locke Foundation
The North Carolina House Redistricting and Senate Redistricting and Elections committees met jointly yesterday to begin discussing where and when they will hold public hearings to collect public input on redistricting.
The meeting, chaired by Sen. Ralph Hise (R – Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Yancey) started with staff handing out papers with county population numbers and population ranges for county groupings. That information goes a long way towards establishing the distribution of legislative seats in the state. For example, Mecklenburg County, population 1,115,482, will have 13 House districts and 5 Senate districts. On the other hand, Onslow County, population 204,576, will have 1 Senate seat contained wholly in the county but is between the ideal ranges for 2 and 3 House seats and so will have to be grouped with one or more neighboring counties to form a House county grouping.
They quickly moved on to the main business, with Hise submitting an initial schedule of ten proposed redistricting hearings spread throughout the state:
Rep. Pricey Harrison (D – Guilford) submitted out a two-page proposal for redistricting hearing procedures and a proposed schedule. Harrison proposes 13 hearings compared to the 10 in the committee chairs’ proposal. This is not to be confused with hearing sites. There were 39 hearing sites in 2011, but those included both locations where legislators hosted hearings and remote locations with a video feed to those hearings. Instead of running remote sites with video links, the hearings will likely be live-streamed over the Internet.
A bigger difference is that Harrison’s proposal would have hearings both before and after the legislature draws the official maps while the committee chairs only call for meetings to gather public input before legislators draw maps.
While some of Harrison’s ideas may be incorporated into how the redistricting process unfolds (and are probably already how legislative leaders plan to conduct the process), I doubt that her proposal will be adopted by the committees. In particular, the idea of post-map drawing hearings is not likely to pass muster.
Pre-map drawing hearings may be useful in getting information from members of the public (or, at least, organized interests within the public) about redistricting, Post-map drawing hearings sound more like a litigation strategy; a means of putting complaints from organizations about the districts in the public record for later use in lawsuits.
The joint redistricting committees will likely vote on hearing times and locations next week.