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Activists: Voting districts unfair
Republican-drawn lines dilute blacks’ impact
 
Published Thursday, October 11, 2012 7:38 am
by Michael Biesecker, The Associated Press

RALEIGH – A coalition of civil and voting rights groups alleges in a legal motion filed Friday that political districts approved by the majority-Republican North Carolina legislature disenfranchise black voters and asks a state court to declare the lines unconstitutional.


The motion – by the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and others – is the latest salvo in a yearlong court challenge to the state’s 2011 redistricting plan. The three-judge panel assigned to review the case is not expected to rule prior to the November election.


The new motion cites a study of voting during the May 2012 primary in six counties with high concentrations of blacks that found excessive numbers of split precincts confused both elections workers and voters.


More than 2,000 registered voters were assigned to the wrong legislative or congressional districts, with at least 222 people given the wrong ballot at the polls, according to the NAACP. The motion focuses on state legislative districts but names three congressional districts as well.
Under the GOP-drawn redistricting plan, nearly a third of registered voters live in precincts split between one or more state House and Senate districts. The review found that blacks are far more likely to live in these split precincts than whites, with neighbors on the same street or even in the same apartment block divided.


In an attempt to remedy past efforts by southern whites to dilute black votes through racial gerrymandering, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and subsequent court rulings called for the creation of minority-majority districts intended to ensure some blacks were elected to office.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said the Republicans who took over control of the North Carolina legislature in 2010 have turned the Voting Rights Act on its head, packing high concentrations of blacks into a handful of legislative districts to boost the odds of GOP candidates winning the rest.


“Before the Voting Rights Act, we called it Jim Crow,” Barber said Friday. “Jim Crow wouldn’t let you vote. Jim Crow had literacy tests. Jim Crow had poll taxes. Today in the 21st century, it’s James Crow, esquire. He puts on a suit, goes in the back room of the General Assembly, gets out a computer and uses race to split precincts in a deliberate way to try to determine a political outcome.”


Federal law calls for redistricting every 10 years to reflect population shifts, as shown by the U.S. Census. But Barber said the new district maps are tilted so heavily to favor Republicans, they could give the GOP control of the state House, and therefore control of the redistricting process, for a generation.


State Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, repeated his party’s position Friday that the maps are fair and legal.


A leader of the GOP redistricting effort, Rucho said he was still reviewing the opposition’s motion, but believed it was riddled with errors. He pointed out that the U.S. Justice Department reviewed the maps last year for Voting Rights Act compliance and precleared them.


“We followed the letter of the law,” Rucho said.


State Board of Elections Director Gary O. Bartlett said Friday that it was news to him if voters got the wrong ballots. He said the state would review the issue if the NAACP provides a list of the affected voters.


“We have not received the first complaint from a voter, candidate or party that a voter was given the wrong ballot in these races in the May primary,” Bartlett said.


Lawyers for the NAACP released maps Friday of the GOP-drawn legislative districts shaded with Census-block data showing where black people live. The meandering lines appeared to track closely with the data showing blocks shaded as being majority-black.


“The sinister way that the Republicans drew these maps was to use a wedge, a line, to divide black and white voters who had been working together to elect representatives of their common interest,” said Bob Hall, director of the voting-rights advocacy group Democracy North Carolina. “It’s a diabolical plan to bleach some districts, to create an apartheid using a computer.”

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