August 25, 2017/Press

ICYMI Redistricting ‘hearings’ were a model of suppression

Raleigh – Yesterday, Sen. Ralph Hise announced that the Senate will not alter their maps after the public overwhelmingly called on them to take the politics out of this process, confirming what everyone already knew: public hearings and comment periods were a complete sham.

Republicans in the General Assembly never cared what the public thought, and would rather protect their majority than fix their racial gerrymander and fairly represent their constituents. As Susan Ladd described, this entire process has been “insulting and disrespectful.”

Greensboro News & Record: Redistricting ‘hearings’ were a model of suppression
By Susan Ladd
August 24, 2017Formula for suppressing public input:

  1. Hold public hearing on a weekday during work hours.
  2. Hold hearing in a room where space is severely limited. The larger the county, the smaller the venue.
  3. Hold hearings simultaneously in seven locations across the state, and make the speakers at each venue take turns with the speakers at the other venues.
  4. Place speaker lectern 10 feet or more from the camera and/or microphones.
  5. Use audiovisual equipment that features loud feedback and garbled sound.
  6. Release key materials related to the public hearing 24 hours in advance.
  7. Cut off speaker sign-up at 6:30 p.m., or as close as possible to the time when most people get off work.

Good job, N.C. General Assembly. Your redistricting committee can say it held public hearings on Tuesday, although it did everything possible to discourage people from actually participating.

I truly hope that U.S. Middle District Judges Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder, along with Judge Jim Wynn of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, were watching this sham of a process. It is by their order that redistricting committees in the N.C. House and Senate are redrawing state legislative districts to correct unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.

State voters have endured three election cycles with these illegal maps, which installed a veto-proof majority of Republicans in both houses. Each time GOP leaders have been asked to redraw any of the maps they created in 2011, they have preserved their majority by packing and cracking districts to minimize the impact of Democratic voters.

It appears they have done so again, according to The News & Observer of Raleigh and the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan, election-law watchdog organization. Their analyses found the proposed maps continue to provide significant advantages for Republican candidates. North Carolina voters had precious little time to interpret the impact on their districts before Tuesday’s hearings, because the demographic information on each new district was not released until Monday.

Instead of conducting hearings in different locations at different times, all the hearings began at 4 p.m. and were livestreamed from six satellite locations throughout the state to the hearing room in Raleigh.

The public hearing for the Triad, home to the third-most-populous city in the state, was in a classroom at Greensboro Technical Community College that normally seats 30. The room was reconfigured to house 51 seats, all of which were filled by 3:30 p.m. By some accounts, as many as 87 people were in an overflow room downstairs, but many left because the audio feed couldn’t be heard for the first 50 minutes.

The audio and video weren’t much better in the official hearing room. Indeed, the production values were dismal. This is especially puzzling because legislative officials said the locations were specifically chosen for their technological capabilities. Having taught at GTCC, UNC-Greensboro and N.C. A&T, I find this explanation to be absurd in the extreme. All these universities have large auditoriums with high-tech capabilities in which four times as many people could have been seated and heard.

And why did each satellite location need to hear the comments from other locations? As a result of this format, only two speakers from the Jamestown location had been heard nearly two hours into the hearing. Only six from the Triad had been given the opportunity to speak by 6:44 p.m., when the round-robin ended and each location began to tape its speakers separately.

Lawmakers ignored requests for a nonpartisan redistricting process, and they ignored pleas for fair criteria. Instead, they used criteria that favored incumbents and based new districts on past election results. They chose to ignore race as a factor in designing new districts, although racial imbalance was what doomed the current maps.

Moreover, the N.C. General Assembly turned the process over to Tom Hofeller, the same political consultant who drew the gerrymandered maps the federal judges overturned. He will be paid at least $50,000 by the taxpayers he is helping disenfranchise.

Several speakers called the public-hearing process insulting and disrespectful. That’s true of the entire redistricting process.

“I implore the courts to see these maps for what they are and throw them out,” said Dan Brady, who spoke from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte. “We would all be better served by the courts deciding the districts.”

He’s absolutely right. GOP lawmakers proved once again that their only goal is preserving their illegal majority.

It’s time for the courts to take the process out of their hands.

Read the full article here.