RALEIGH — If state lawmakers get their way, new congressional maps mean changes for Bladen County.
Congressional districts are redrawn after every national census, or every 10 years. They were last drawn and approved by the 2011 General Assembly, but in 2015, the lines were challenged in court. Plaintiffs, making a case for gerrymandering, argued the boundaries relied too heavily on the race of voters by packing blacks into a small number of districts, thereby diluting their influence in surrounding districts.
In August of 2016, the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled that indeed, racial gerrymandering had occurred in 28 districts. In addition to ordering lawmakers to enact new congressional districts, the court also enacted a provision for special elections to be held in December, 2017 and March, 2018 in the 28 affected regions, which include Bladen County.
When the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court on June 5, 2017, the land’s highest court affirmed the gerrymandering ruling, but kicked the special elections provision back down to the district court. The justices asked the district court to reconsider, questioning the lower tribunal’s decision by saying it had “addressed the balance of equities in only the must cursory of fashion” and that the Supreme Court justices “cannot have confidence that the (district) court adequately grappled with the interests on both sides of the remedial question before us.”
Upon convening to address the issue again on July 17, the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina overturned its original ruling and denied plaintiff’s request for special elections. It did, however, enforce a Sept. 1 deadline for the drawing of new districts and ordered the new maps be enacted for the 2018 general election. After much back-and-forth, state lawmakers are in the process of approving a plan.
If enforced, it will mean changes for Bladen County’s N.C. House elections. Currently, District 46, which Brenden Jones represents, is comprised of Bladenboro, southeastern Robeson County, and all of Columbus County. Under the new maps, District 46 would lose Bladenboro, and the lines in Columbus and Robeson counties would change.
Bladenboro, however, would join District 22, which would put its residents in the same voting block as the rest of the county, the one currently represented by William Brisson.
At least one group is hopeful about the prospect.
“We have to print so many ballot styles for all the different precincts, so it would certainly make our lives a lot simpler if this is approved,” said Cynthia Shaw, director of the Bladen County Board of Elections.
The new maps mean changes for surrounding counties as well. Robeson County, currently divided into four House districts, would be whittled down to two, and Pender County, previously a lone flyer, would gain significant portions of Columbus County into its House District 16. Brunswick and New Hanover counties would remain relatively unchanged in House districts.
For state Senate races, the changes in districts are much smaller. The entirety of Bladen County, which lies in Bill Rabon’s District 8 currently, will remain in District 8 with Pender and Brunswick counties. Duplin, Sampson, and a smaller portion of Johnston counties will stay in District 10, and a larger chunk of Cumberland County will be retained in District 19. All of Robeson and Columbus counties will continue to comprise the constituency in District 13.
On Wednesday, the bill was sent to the House Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.