The U.S. Department of Justice is among groups suing two Southern states for alleging drawing voting district maps that discriminate against people of color, but lawmakers in the Republican-led states said they drew the maps race-blind.
Texas and North Carolina redistricting leaders said they did not consider racial data while constructing the maps based on U.S. Census population data from 2020. The maps outline the voting lines for the next decade.
“I’ve stated it, and I’ll state it again — we drew these maps race-blind,” Houston Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman said during a redistricting hearing. “We have not looked at any racial data as we drew these maps, and to this day, I have not looked at any racial data.”
The Department of Justice, in its lawsuit, said Texas’ new district maps discriminate against Black voters and disregards growth in the Latino population.
Voting advocates suing North Carolina claim that lawmakers did not consider the needs of the majority-minority districts by excluding racial data, which violates the state’s constitution and the Voting Rights Act. According to the department, the act prohibits redistricting plans that are discriminatory or have discriminatory outcomes.
North Carolina Republicans said they left out the racial data because they were previously sued for it in the past. A federal court ordered the state to redraw 28 districts found to be racial gerrymanders in 2016.
“We have been presented with no evidence that anything has changed since that decision from just a few years ago,” North Carolina Senate Republicans spokesperson Pat Ryan told CNN.
“And so, having been told recently by a court that we did not have evidence of the conditions that would justify the use of racial data in redistricting, we chose not to use racial data this time around.”
Texas has also been sued for allegedly drawing maps that discriminated against voters of color in the past. The Justice Department said the state’s new maps do not account for the fact that minority residents made up 95 percent of its population growth. The population grew so much in 2020 that Texas had to add two additional congressional seats. Each congressional district must include about 711,000 people.
“However, Texas has designed both of those new seats to have white voting majorities,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta told reporters. “Instead, our investigation determined that Texas’ redistricting plans will dilute the increased minority voting strength that should have developed from these significant demographic shifts.”
According to reports, North Carolina’s new Congressional map reduced the Black population’s voting age in the district held by Black Democratic Rep. G.K Butterfield. Voting advocates also claim in the litigation that majority-Black districts in the state House and Senate were sliced. Butterfield announced that he will not seek reelection because of the map.
“The map that was recently enacted by the legislature is a partisan map,” Butterfield said in a video statement. “It’s racially gerrymandered. It will disadvantage African-American communities all across the first congressional district.”
Attorneys familiar with North Carolina’s redistricting process told CNN that the state is trying to play it safe by walking the line between Voting Rights Act requirements and the state’s constitution.
“Legislatures have to use very localized data to determine if they are required to draw [Voting Rights Act] Section 2 districts,” attorney Jason Torchinsky told CNN. “If they are, then they have to consider race in those parts of the states because they’re required to under the Voting Rights Act.” But when states aren’t required to draw VRA districts, Torchinsky said, the use of race could pose a potential constitutional problem.
Still, advocates suing the state argue that the map drawers are familiar with the state’s demographics as leaders and longtime residents know “where Black voters live.”
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