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LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING

Wilson’s Senate district could shift

Posted on October 21, 2021

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Wilson, Wayne and Greene counties, in purple, combine to form a new N.C. Senate District 9 in a preliminary redistricting plan state lawmakers released for public review on Wednesday.

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Wilson, Wayne and Greene counties, in purple, combine to form a new N.C. Senate District 9 in a preliminary redistricting plan state lawmakers released for public review on Wednesday.

cfriedman@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7813

Horner

Horner

Fitch

Fitch

Horner

Horner

Fitch

Fitch

A preliminary N.C. Senate district map would pair Wilson County with Wayne and Greene counties, shifting the partisan advantage for Wilson’s state Senate seat from blue to red.

Wilson, Edgecombe and Halifax counties comprise Senate District 4 under the current configuration, but a plan released Wednesday would redraw those boundaries to include Edgecombe and Pitt counties. Wilson would join a reconfigured Senate District 9, swapping a Democratic-leaning territory for a voting district that favors Republicans.

“When you’re trying to draw maps that will allow you to have a supermajority, you’re talking about dividing and causing division,” said Sen. Milton F. “Toby” Fitch Jr., D-Wilson. “You’re creating something you said you don’t want to create.”

Fitch said Wilson’s proposed new district is a partisan gerrymander that may run afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act. If Republican legislative leaders vote to accept the map, he said new district lines would face court challenges.

“It’s going to work out one way or another,” he said. “I’m just sorry it’s going to take the time and energy and money to take it to court when common sense is supposed to rule the day.”

The N.C. Senate Redistricting Committee released five congressional district maps and one plan to reshuffle the state’s 50 Senate districts Wednesday, with maps from the state House redistricting panel anticipated on Thursday. District boundaries could continue to shift as residents offer feedback in public hearings and lawmakers negotiate tweaks and consider competing plans.

RELATED STORY: NC senators release redistricting options to public

SEE THE MAPS: Click here to view proposed maps from the Senate Redistricting Committee 

North Carolina’s population gains in the 2020 census awarded the state a 14th U.S. House seat. Fitch said the N.C. Senate’s initial maps dilute the concentration of African American voters in the 1st Congressional District, which U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Wilson, has represented since 2004. Those plans could also prompt lawsuits, Fitch said, noting that the 1st is designated as a majority-minority district under the Voting Rights Act.

“Every time a minority takes one step, there’s somebody standing here taking two away,” Fitch said.

With five Senate-drawn congressional maps in play and the House yet to weigh in, it’s unclear what shape the 1st District would ultimately take. The single N.C. Senate district map is a more solid starting point, as House and Senate redistricting committees develop the plans for their respective chambers in the General Assembly.

Fitch said Wilson County shares fewer common interests with Wayne and Greene counties than with Nash and Edgecombe.

“We don’t have an Air Force base,” he said, referring to Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro. “The issues we have are different.”

Rick Horner, a Republican who represented Wilson and Nash counties from 2016-18 and moved to his family home in Bailey to retain the seat for the 2018-20 legislative biennium when court-ordered redistricting carved Wilson out of Senate District 11, disagreed with Fitch’s assessment that the maps are gerrymandered.

“It’s a mathematical algorithm, so there’s no chicanery here,” Horner said. “It looks to me like a good draw for Wilson.”

State lawmakers used computer software to draw district lines based on population. The political cartographers say data on voters’ race and party affiliation weren’t part of the formula.

Dividing the state’s population by 50 N.C. Senate districts produces an ideal population of 208,788 voters in each district. The Senate remapping proposal designated as SST-4 would give the Wilson-Wayne-Greene district a population of 216,568, a 3.73% deviation.

Horner said Wilson and Nash counties share common interests and should be paired, noting that the adjoining counties have shared a voting district in all but one General Assembly session since the Civil War.

That conclusion emerged as a point of bipartisan consensus, as Fitch noted the communities’ strong ties and suggested Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe would make a better tri-county Senate cluster.

“The people in Wayne County are good people. The people in Greene County are good people,” Fitch said. “I take the position that we represent people; we don’t represent boundaries. You don’t want to split the state and split cities so people don’t know where they are, but you do want people to have the opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice.”

Public hearings on the proposed maps are scheduled at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday and the same times on Tuesday. The 3 o’clock hearings will be held in General Assembly committee rooms, while both 5:30 hearings will be conducted by videoconference.

Regional satellite locations will allow constituents to participate in the 3 p.m. public hearings remotely as an alternative to traveling to Raleigh. East Carolina University will host a remote location for Tuesday afternoon’s hearing.

For more information, visit https://ncleg.gov/Redistricting.

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