RALEIGH — The Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly adjourned its long session on Nov. 15 after the state Senate approved new Congressional maps along partisan lines.

The 24-17 vote in the N.C. Senate enacts House Bill 1029, a redistricting bill that changed the state’s 13 Congressional districts. The previous maps, passed in 2016, were found by a bipartisan three-judge panel on Oct. 28 to be unlawful partisan gerrymanders that violated the state constitution. The court encouraged the NCGA to draw new maps before the start of the 2020 election and 2020 primaries, as the filing period is slated to begin on Dec. 2 and run through Dec. 20.

In its Nov. 15 vote, the state Senate made no changes to the maps that were approved by the state House on Nov. 14. Redistricting bills do not need to be approved by the governor, so it goes to the three-judge panel for final approval. If the new map is not approved, the filing period and primary for N.C. Congressional candidates could be delayed, the court said in its Oct. 28 order. The 2020 N.C. primary is set for “Super Tuesday,” Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) voted in favor of the maps while Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone) voted against the maps.

“We have drawn this map in public,” said Rep. David Lewis (R-Dunn), a co-chair of the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting, in a Nov. 14 statement. “We have amended this map in public. We have discussed and debated this map in public. We have taken thousands of public comments and input in committee. This is a good-faith effort to make districts that are fair and compact.”

“This is a map you can vote for and feel proud that you have done a good job in providing legislative districts for the U.S. House in North Carolina,” Lewis added.

Lewis was also the defendant in the lawsuit that necessitated the new maps.

In a Facebook post, Russell disputed the claims by state Republicans of an open and transparent process.

“The process used to draw these maps was not really public nor nonpartisan (maps were taken into back rooms and reviewed by unknown and unnamed individuals),” Russell stated on Nov. 14. “The map does not pass the ‘look’ test. Partisan gerrymandering clearly still exists.”

Russell also claims that there are no competitive districts in the new maps and the base maps used to formulate these maps were based on racial data. Federal courts have ruled that racial data can’t be used in drawing representative maps.

“I will say it again, voters should pick politicians, not politicians picking the voters,” Russell wrote on Nov. 14. Ballard did not respond to a request for comment as of press time as she was out of state, according to a spokesperson.

New Fifth District, a new Democratic challenger

If approved by the courts, the new NC-5 will include all of Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Wilkes, Alexander, Caldwell, Burke, Cleveland and Gaston counties, plus the eastern half of Rutherord County – 64.92 percent of its population – and a small sliver of northern Catwaba County that contains 9.92 percent of its population.

The Fifth District would lose Avery, Surry, Yadkin, Stokes and Forsyth counties.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Banner Elk) would remain eligible for re-election in NC-5 under the current map as she lives a few hundred yards away from the Watauga/Avery border off N.C. 105. Potential challenger Jeanne Supin, a Boone Democrat, would also be eligible.

Caldwell and Burke would be absorbed from the 11th District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a Hendersonville Republican. None of the challengers who have set up a federal campaign in the 11th District are from Caldwell or Burke counties.

The new map also absorbs a good portion of the former 10th District, which is represented by Patrick McHenry (R-Denver).

McHenry, who lives and is registered in Lincoln County, would remain in the revamped 10th District. Two Democratic challengers, however, are in new districts. David Wilson Brown, a Democrat from McAdenville in Gaston County and ASU grad, is now in the Fifth District.

Speaking on Nov. 19, Brown said he’s waiting for the court ruling before making a final decision, but plans on running for office “where it makes the most sense.”

Gina Collias, a Democrat whose campaign is registered to a P.O. Box in Kings Mountain, said in a Nov. 18 statement on her campaign’s Facebook that she has been living in Buncombe County, which is in the 11th District.

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