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Lawmakers in North Carolina are scrambling to redraw the state's entire political geography in just two weeks. The state Supreme Court declared earlier this month that the old legislative districts were a partisan gerrymander that unconstitutionally favored Republicans over Democrats. And as NPR's Miles Parks reports, lawmakers are rushing to overcome a history of partisan mistrust.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: State Senator Rick Horner is looking at a screen. There's light green in one chunk, red in another, turquoise in another, all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It's a color-coded map of the Senate districts of North Carolina. And he's a little confused.
RICK HORNER: But that just shows you my district or all districts?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All the...
HORNER: Oh, the cluster.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All the ones in this cluster.
HORNER: OK, good. It was a cluster.
PARKS: Horner is working with a staffer and a fellow senator to move groups of voters from one district to another.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: So right now you got 10 a little too small, but...
HORNER: That's - that looks more compact to me.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Now we've got 11 is just a touch too small.
PARKS: Horner and the rest of the North Carolina State Legislature have been working all week to make new maps without considering who voters are likely to support. That was a directive from the state court, who said the old maps violated people's right to a fair election. In 2018, Republican legislative candidates received less than half of the overall vote, and yet, they ended up with 58% of the Senate seats and 54% of the House seats.
MICHAEL GARRETT: We're looking at these maps without partisan data, and it's based on population. We're trying to make them as compact as possible.
PARKS: That's State Senator Michael Garrett. He's a freshman Democrat who had never been involved in mapmaking before. The state court will review whatever final maps the legislature approves, and Garrett says he has doubts about whether the court will be happy with what they get.
GARRETT: I think that the behavior of this body and the nearly decade of gamesmanship that's gone on - there's just too much distrust.
PARKS: Republicans have tried to address that mistrust. They took a set of a thousand maps drawn by a political science professor who testified against them in court and brought in the state lottery to pick from a subset of those maps.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: The number chosen will be five, which will correspond to map A-58.
PARKS: This round of redistricting comes during a very tense time in North Carolina politics. Earlier this week, Republicans sprang a surprise vote on Democrats that had lawmakers screaming at each other on the House floor.
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DEB BUTLER: Your leadership is an embarrassment to the history of this great state.
PARKS: On the same day, a Democratic senator grabbed a reporter's phone and threw it, and accusations have been flying about secret mapmaking. None of that surprises Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at nearby Catawba College.
MICHAEL BITZER: It is a very intense, very partisan, very polarized environment that the state has been going through since 2008, really.
PARKS: Election results are often razor-thin here. Earlier this week, a special election for a seat in Congress was decided by less than 4,000 votes, so small tweaks to political districts can have a huge impact. Bitzer says that regardless of how the maps are drawn, voters will probably only be happy if their party benefits.
Miles Parks, NPR News, Raleigh, N.C.
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