Caldwell County leaders do not want the county to be split in redistricting, and the county has political clout. Despite that, Caldwell County is certainly going to be split between state Senate districts and may be split between state House districts. Caldwell County’s redistricting predicament demonstrates how the constraints of law and geography limit how legislators can draw districts.
North Carolina’s unique county clustering process is a way of balancing constitutional requirements of keeping counties whole and having equal populations of legislative districts. The county clustering process is simple in principle but can be complex in application. The whole county provision of the North Carolina State Constitution and redistricting criteria adopted by the General Assembly substantially influence how districts can be drawn within county clusters.
Political and racial data are appropriately banned from consideration when legislators draw district maps. Preventing "double bunking" of incumbents can prevent map drawers from following redistricting best practices such as maximizing compactness and respecting political boundaries. "Community of interest" is a nebulous concept and often less helpful to drawing good districts than many believe it to be.
Congressional districts must be equal in population, but legislators have some flexibility regarding population equality when drawing state legislative districts. Districts must be contiguous, and the rules are precise about what counts as contiguous. Districts are required to be compact, but North Carolina's geography often makes that impossible.
North Carolina's constitution and related court cases severely limit how counties can be divided when forming state legislative districts. Precincts sometimes must be split when forming districts but doing so is disruptive for election officials and voters and should be avoided. It is often not practical to follow municipal boundaries when drawing district maps.
House Bill 495 (“Redistricting Criteria for 2021”) has several good elements that legislators should include in any redistricting plan they pass. But the bill falls short of ideal in how it mandates the use of political data in the redistricting process. It also fails to protect counties from being unnecessarily split and appears to define “community of interest” to advantage Democrats.
On March 17, 2020, Gov. Cooper used emergency powers to shut down restaurants and bars to in-person eating and drinking, and he did so without concurrence from the Council of State, as required by the EMA. Cooper then claimed authority elsewhere in state law, setting a dangerous precedent that legislators must fix by reforming the EMA.
There is already a host of constitutional, statutory, and judicial criteria in place that restrict how the General Assembly can draw districts. Additional reforms can assure equitable redistricting without a redistricting commission.
The North Carolina Emergency Management Act (EMA) delegates too much power to the executive branch and provides too little legislative guidance and oversight. This article proposes specific changes to the EMA to correct these deficiencies and restore the separation of powers guaranteed by the North Carolina State Constitution.
The first three counts are concerned with the discriminatory way Cooper has applied the Emergency Management Act. The last two counts, on the other hand, point to problems with the EMA itself — problems that can only be solved by amending the act.
North Carolina State Constitution by Author
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