NC mapmaker says politics led to US House lines - WNCN: News, Weather

NC mapmaker says politics led to US House lines

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

The national redistricting expert who worked on North Carolina's new legislative and congressional maps testified Wednesday he never used race-based statistics to draw certain boundaries now being challenged in court.

Tom Hofeller, described in court as the chief architect of redistricting plans pushed through the General Assembly by Republicans in 2011, spoke as a witness for GOP legislative leaders and the state of North Carolina, which are now defending the plans against lawsuits. A three-judge panel planned to wrap up a trial on race-related issues Wednesday before ruling later on motions to throw out the boundaries on constitutional grounds.

The attorneys who sued on behalf of Democratic voters and allied groups contend race was the predominant factor in forming several districts, which would constitute illegal gerrymandering. Those districts include the 4th Congressional District in the eastern Piedmont and 12th District stretching from Charlotte to Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

Hofeller testified he received instructions from Republican redistricting leaders at the General Assembly to draw the 4th and 12th congressional districts to increase their percentages of Democratic voters, not to increase black voters. He said he used detailed election returns from the 2008 presidential race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain to essentially move precincts or split them to bring in voters most inclined to vote Democratic.

Courts have upheld political considerations in redistricting as lawful.

"There were political goals, but the whole plan was a political plan," Hofeller testified. "The goals for the 12th District were to draw it in such a matter to increase Republican opportunities in the surrounding districts."

The black voting-age population in the 12th District, represented by Democrat Mel Watt, for more than 20 years, was increased from 44 percent under the previous map to 51 percent under the current plan. The 4th District also has been represented by Rep. David Price, a Democrat, for most of the past 25 years.

Hofeller, who was the Republican National Committee's consultant on redistricting after the 2000 and 2010 census, also said political considerations — and not race — were used in creating state Senate districts in Forsyth County and House districts in Lee and Harnett counties.

The three Superior Court judges also heard testimony about whether Republican legislators were justified in drawing majority-black districts in areas of the state where they aren't required as part of the federal Voting Rights Act. Watt and several other Democratic black elected officials testified Tuesday that racially polarized voting doesn't exist in their areas anymore or has decreased dramatically, shown in part by their own campaign victories.

Republican mapmakers say creating legislative districts that are more than 50 percent black was a reasonable remedy to avoid some challenges under the Voting Rights Act. Hofeller said he has been familiar with redistricting in North Carolina for decades.

"Racial polarization was always deemed to have been present, and I had never seen any study to the contrary during that time period," he said.

Eddie Speas, an attorney for the Democratic voters, pressed Hofeller under cross-examination to explain who told him to draw the maps the way he did and whether he used any other race-based information.

Hofeller said he was directed by the chairmen of the House and Senate redistricting committees to draw the maps. Speas suggested Hofeller, who lives in Virginia, was far and distant from North Carolina citizens during the mapmaking process. Hofeller acknowledged never attending public hearings where voters could comment before the maps were released.

Watt testified Tuesday that Senate redistricting panel Chairman Bob Rucho told him during a private meeting in 2011 that Republican leaders "had told him that they were going to ramp the 12th Congressional District up to over 50 percent black." Later Tuesday, Rucho denied saying that.

The trial was expected to conclude Wednesday without immediate rulings.

The stakes are large, and the results are sure to be appealed by the losing side. The 2011 maps helped Republicans pad their majorities in the state House and Senate in the 2012 elections and win nine of North Carolina's 13 U.S. House seats.

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