Mapmakers are proposing new districts for most members of the North Carolina House, a move forced after federal judges ruled state Republicans illegally gave too much emphasis to race in the current version of legislative voting lines.
The state House map released Saturday is the first made public ahead of a statewide public hearing Tuesday. State lawmakers are expected to finalize new House and Senate district lines the following week.
While Republicans control both chambers and can draw the boundaries to their liking, the new legislative maps will be reviewed by a three-judge panel of federal judges. They are not subject to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto.
Republicans currently hold 74 of the 120 House seats and 35 of the 50 Senate seats. Not all districts had to be redrawn because of the 28 House and Senate districts found to be illegal. Detailed data about the districts, which could better project how many seats each party would be favored to win under the map, will be made public Monday.
"People will be able to draw conclusions for themselves," said GOP Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, the senior chairman of the House redistricting committee.
The new map creates districts that are more compact than those the courts said resulted from illegal racial gerrymandering in 2011, Lewis said.
Both the House and Senate committees agreed not to use racial data about voters in drawing new boundaries. But their criteria did allow for the use of past election results — a key projector of a district's political leanings.
Gerrymandering along partisan lines has survived legal challenges, but the Supreme Court will revisit the topic this year in a Wisconsin lawsuit that experts say could be a landmark case.
"We feel like we have complied with the wishes of the judges," Lewis said.
The resulting House map creates two districts in which incumbent Republicans would have to go head-to-head: One involving Reps. Jon Hardister and John Faircloth, both representing Guilford County, and another that would set up an intra-GOP fight between Rep. Carl Ford of Rowan County against Rep. Larry Pittman of Cabarrus County.
Two other districts would have an incumbent Democrat facing a sitting Republican, Lewis said. They are in Wilson County — matching Democrat Jean Farmer-Butterfield against Republican Susan Martin — and Lee County, where GOP Rep. John Sauls could meet Democrat Robert Reives.
Four of the new districts have no current incumbent lawmakers living in them, Lewis said. Three are in Guilford, Chatham and Pitt counties. The fourth includes Beaufort and Craven counties.
Democrats protested immediately, saying Republican mapmakers appeared to withhold necessary details about how the districts are composed.
"I'm sure GOP members have some of this information already and perhaps even their constituents," state Sen. Angela Bryant of Rocky Mount wrote in an email.
Democrats and their allies are expected to oppose many boundaries, and they've already complained about criteria the committees used.