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Hofeller files, racial data consume third day of redistricting trial

Gerrymandering

By Brooke Conrad, Carolina Journal News Service-  After slogging through a mass of statistical data and redistricting jargon, day three of Common Cause v. Lewis brought the court back to the fundamental questions: the constitutionality of Republicans’ gerrymandered maps and the legal implications of the controversial Hofeller files.

Democratic legislative candidates have had to compete under Republican-gerrymandered maps since the 2012 elections. Several parties, including the N.C. Democratic Party and Common Cause NC, took the matter to court. Republicans argue it’s not illegal to draw election maps favoring one political party over another, so long as the maps satisfy requirements in the N.C. Constitution.

The three-judge District Court panel will decide whether the state constitution does in fact prohibit partisan gerrymandering. If the constitution doesn’t, Democrats’ only way to get maps to their liking would be to persuade the legislature to draw them.

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who leads the House redistricting committee, said Wednesday, July 17, the first two days of the hearing revealed nothing new and failed to implicate Republicans of any illegal election-related acts.

“We did everything in accordance with the law, and they have yet to give even an ounce of evidence that there was any wrongdoing,” Lewis said in a statement.

But for much of the hearing, Democrats have harped on the partisan bias of the district plans. University of Michigan political science professor Jowei Chen testified that he generated 1,000 different computer-simulated redistricting plans for the 2018 election that would have delivered more wins to Democratic Party candidates than they won under the Republicans’ plan.

“These documents are frankly smoking-gun evidence that partisan intent was involved,” plaintiff attorney Daniel Jacobson said.

Along with accusations of excessive partisanship, Democrats have also claimed that Thomas Hofeller — North Carolina Republicans’ redistricting mastermind — considered racial data on voters while drawing his maps. The U.S. Constitution’s 15th Amendment prohibits racial discrimination in election administration. Chen said Tuesday that Hofeller’s files exhibit racial data, including a list of districts ordered from those containing the lowest to highest numbers of voting-age African-Americans.

Hofeller died last year.

But it’s impossible to know whether Hofeller actually referred to this chart while drawing the map, defense attorney Thomas Farr suggested during Wednesday’s cross-examination of Chen. Farr argued it’s possible Hofeller referenced racial data only after the maps were complete, to see how it aligned with the maps.

Hofeller’s files are also controversial because of when they were drawn. According to plaintiff testimony, Hofeller’s map drafts are dated June 24, 2017, which is six weeks before the General Assembly adopted the criteria for drawing them.

Farr on Wednesday also challenged Chen on the impartiality of his computer-simulated maps, which were based solely on traditional districting principles, which include “compactness” — how closely a district is geographically dispersed around its center — and not allowing districts to cross county lines.

The state constitution prohibits splitting counties and cities whenever possible in redistricting plans.

Farr’s cross-examination of Chen will resume Thursday morning.

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