From Duke Today:
Ten retired judges will gather at Duke University on Thursday, April 21, to launch a simulation of an independent, nonpartisan redistricting panel.
The event is the first of three that ultimately will result in a new, but unofficial, map of N.C. congressional districts. The project is designed to increase public understanding of how independent political redistricting might function in North Carolina if adopted.
“Beyond Gerrymandering: Impartial Redistricting for North Carolina” runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., adjourning from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for a press conference and private lunch. Speakers will include experts in demography, law and policy.
The event at the Sanford School of Public Policy is free and open to the public. Visitor parking is available in the Science Drive or Bryan Center Visitor Lots on Duke’s West Campus.
Thomas W. Ross, University of North Carolina system president emeritus and the inaugural Terry Sanford distinguished fellow at Duke, will lead the redistricting simulation in collaboration with Common Cause North Carolina and POLIS: The Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and Service, an initiative of the Sanford School that seeks solutions to problems of contemporary politics.
“A number of people I’ve talked to feel like they don’t have a voice anymore, and that’s dangerous for our democracy to get to that point,” said Ross. “I don’t think it’s a partisan issue because both parties engage in partisan redistricting. I think if you could figure out a way to take some of that partisanship out of it you’d be successful.”
Redistricting is the process of redrawing boundaries of districts from which public officials are elected. Based on U.S. Census data, districts are updated every 10 years to reflect population shifts.
The N.C. General Assembly is responsible for creating maps for the state’s 13 U.S. House of Representatives districts, 50 N.C. Senate districts and 120 N.C. House of Representatives districts.
North Carolina’s congressional maps, last drawn in 2011, were disputed. A federal court threw out those maps in February, saying Districts 1 and 12 were racially gerrymandered. The ruling forced the N.C. General Assembly to redraw the districts and delayed the state’s congressional primaries from March to June.
In a parallel dispute, a panel of three judges is considering whether nearly 30 of 170 N.C. state House and Senate districts were racially gerrymandered and must be redrawn.
“Clearly, North Carolina’s system of allowing partisan politicians to draw their own voting maps is not working,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. “Instead it undermines competition in our elections and leads to costly litigation.
“Fortunately, a growing number of citizens, business leaders and elected officials across our state believe we should adopt a better way of redistricting by giving that power to an independent body.”
Presenters at the simulation event are political scientist Mark Nance of N.C. State University, demographer Rebecca Tippett of the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill and attorney Bill Gilkeson, who served 25 years on the legal staff of the General Assembly.
Retired jurists serving on the simulated redistricting panel are both Democratic and Republican and include former N.C. State Supreme Court justices Rhoda Billings, Jim Exum, Henry Frye and Bob Orr.