At both the NC House and NC Senate redistricting sessions on Monday, Republican lawmakers proposed (without warning or clarity) a process for re-drawing legislative maps that is intended to appear non-partisan but has the potential to be anything but. The proposed process will use one of Dr. Jowei Chen’s (an expert witness for the plaintiffs) 1,000 simulated maps as a baseline, narrowing the list to the top 25% of maps in compactness, a criterion that notably does not preclude splitting municipalities. The legislature will then consider amending the selected maps but likely only in very limited ways, according to Rep. Lewis.
Dr. Chen’s maps were randomly generated using standard non-partisan criteria to show the distribution of likely outcomes if the maps were drawn using non-partisan criteria. Dr. Chen demonstrated that NC’s current legislative maps are extreme outliers and illustrated how far outside the expected range the challenged districts fall.
By using as a base one of Dr. Chen’s maps, which were specifically drawn for the purpose of testing the enacted maps, Republicans may be trying to set up an argument that choosing any of Dr. Chen’s 1,000 maps would pass the partisan gerrymandering test—while leaving ample room to create maps that continue to give the GOP an extreme partisan advantage. Here’s why:
Imagine a poker game in which, rather than being dealt a single random poker hand, one of the players is allowed to choose from among 1,000 random poker hands. Who wouldn’t want that advantage? Obviously, the game would be extremely unfair even though each of the 1,000 hands was originally dealt randomly.
The same principle applies here. Choosing one of Dr. Chen’s maps is not enough to ensure that the redistricting process is free from partisan consideration if Republicans can steer the process toward one of the most Republican-friendly versions of Dr. Chen’s maps. While Republicans are not able to use partisan data directly, they know these districts and county groupings extremely well and can propose criteria that make it far more likely that the selected baseline map strongly favors the GOP. (Update: Lawyers for the Republicans sent partisan data – which the legislature is prohibited from using to draw the new maps – FOR EVERY VERSION OF CHEN’S MAPS to every member of the House redistricting committee and their staff.)
Republicans are doing everything they can to signal that their process for drawing new maps will be fair and legal, but history tells us to be extremely skeptical – and to watch carefully for any attempts to rob North Carolina of a just process.