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Cumberland Democrat sees evidence of Democratic gerrymandering in N.C. House election

Were the lines drawn to help Mike Colvin run and block Larry Wright?


A Democratic candidate for N.C. Dist. 42 suspects that fellow party member and incumbent Rep. Marvin Lucas of Spring Lake got the state’s majority-Republican legislature to gerrymander the district in an effort to bring Lucas’ preferred successor into that seat.

Former state Rep. Elmer Floyd of Fayetteville, who is in the Democratic primary for the Dist. 42 seat, noted that in October, when the legislature was evaluating proposed voting district maps for the upcoming elections, Lucas sought and received a revision to the maps that ensured the home of Democrat Mike Colvin would be in Dist. 42. Originally, Colvin’s home would have been in Dist. 44.

Lucas, who is retiring from the Dist. 42 seat when his term ends this year, has endorsed Mike Colvin of Fayetteville to replace him. He said Floyd’s suspicions are wrong.

Lucas said he only wanted to improve the Dist. 42 map when he sought to have the Cross Creek 9 voting precinct in the Ramsey Street area of northeast Fayetteville added to Dist. 42.

“It makes it more compact,” he said.

Dist. 42 encompasses west Fayetteville, Fort Liberty, Spring Lake and part of northeast Fayetteville.

Regardless of Lucas’ motive, the new N.C. House election districts map enacted by the legislature in October for the upcoming elections went far beyond his request to add the Cross Creek 9 precinct to Dist. 42. In all, it affected nine voting precincts throughout Fayetteville and altered the boundaries of Dist. 42, Dist. 44 and Dist. 45.

And those alterations changed the competition that was gearing up for 2024 state House elections:

  • The new map pulled Floyd out of this year’s central and eastern Fayetteville Dist. 44 election, where he would have challenged Democratic incumbent Charles Smith, and put Floyd in Dist. 42.
  • And the map knocked former City Councilman Larry O. Wright of western Fayetteville out of Dist. 42, where he had been planning to run. The new district boundaries put Wright’s home into Dist. 45, where Dist. 45 incumbent Democrat Frances V. Jackson of Hope Mills is running for reelection. Wright didn’t file for the Dist. 45 election.

CityView used a publicly available district map cartography app and found a way to add the Cross Creek 9 precinct that Lucas wanted to Dist. 42 without affecting Dist. 45 or affecting the voting precinct where Floyd lives.

Lawmakers can design voting maps to rig elections

Gerrymandering is a widely criticized political practice of using election district maps to manipulate an election’s outcome. Politicians engage in gerrymandering when their design of the election district maps is intended  help or hurt the chance that a particular candidate, political party or other entity will win.

For example, a district boundary could be moved to ensure a candidate’s district has more voters of his political party living in it, and fewer voters of the opposite party. This sort of gerrymandering, called partisan gerrymandering, is common.

Similarly, an incumbent may be aware of a likely opponent in an upcoming election. The incumbent can arrange to move the district boundary so the opponent’s home ends up in a neighboring district, and therefore cannot run against the incumbent, since state legislative candidates are required to live in their districts.

In October, the N.C. General Assembly revised the voting districts for the 120 state House seats, the 50 state Senate seats and the 14 seats North Carolina has in Congress. The legislature’s Republican majority engaged in a partisan gerrymander by positioning the boundaries to ensure that Republicans would win most of the seats.

After a map of proposed N.C. House district boundaries was released Oct. 18, the legislature’s Democrats were allowed to bring forward suggestions, said Democratic state Rep. Jack Hawkins of Durham, who serves on the state House Redistricting Committee. But nothing the Democrats proposed would be accepted if it affected a district that the Republicans designed to elect Republican candidates, he said.

On Oct. 23, Hawkins presented to the state House Redistricting Committee the plan to modify the three Democratic-leaning districts in Cumberland County: Dist. 42, Dist. 44 and Dist. 45. The GOP’s proposed map for eastern Cumberland County’s House Dist. 43, where incumbent Republican Diane Wheatley of Cumberland County is running for reelection, was unaffected.

The committee voted 17-0 to approve the Cumberland County modification after about 60 seconds of discussion.

Hawkins said this week he had no knowledge of any local politics behind the district map request from Cumberland County’s Democratic lawmakers, such as whether potential candidates had expressed interest seeking office, or where those candidates lived.

The new N.C. House districts map became law on Oct. 25. Unless the maps get overturned by the courts in lawsuits challenging their constitutionality, they apply to the 2024 to 2030 elections.

Circumstances breed suspicion of gerrymandering

Floyd won’t say with 100% certainty that Lucas’ motive to move the Cross Creek 9 voting precinct from Dist. 44 to Dist. 42 was a gerrymander to pave the way for Colvin to run for Dist. 42. But he argues that the facts suggest Lucas sought the change for Colvin.

The circumstances speak for themselves, Floyd said.

“One, if you’re leaving office, what difference does it make how the district is drawn?” Floyd said. “Two, the district was moved. Three, an endorsement was made.”

Lucas said Floyd is wrong about his motivation. His desire to have the boundary of Dist. 42 adjusted, he said, was to bring an area of Fayetteville he used to represent back into Dist. 42.

He said it wasn’t to ensure Colvin could run for Dist. 42.

“No. Why would I do that for him?” Lucas said. “I did it for the sake of the district.” (When Lucas said “district,” he was referring to the Cross Creek 9 voting precinct, where Colvin lives.) “Michael Colvin is not the only excellent candidate in that district. There’s several folk in that district who are excellent candidates — could be excellent candidates.”

Cross Creek 9 has college graduates, county commissioners, college professors, “a lot of folk who I think have lots of, to me, positive ability to move Cumberland County forward. And that’s my motivation,” Lucas said.

Colvin, who describes Lucas as a friend and a mentor, said he never asked for the map to be changed.

“No, I had no knowledge of that,” Colvin said. “I knew that they were working on the lines, but I had no knowledge of it.”

Colvin said he doesn’t believe the revision was made to benefit him in the election.

If the map had not been changed, Colvin would be living in Dist. 44, where Democrat Charles Smith is running for reelection. Colvin would not have run against Smith.

“I don’t believe in challenging incumbents of the same party,” he said.

Revised map affects elections throughout Fayetteville

The request Hawkins presented to the Redistricting Committee on behalf of Cumberland County’s Democratic lawmakers did more than add the Cross Creek 9 voting precinct to Dist. 42. The Cumberland County request affected nine voting precincts throughout Fayetteville.

 Precincts were swapped not only between Dist. 42 and Dist. 44, but also between those districts and Dist. 45 — anchored in Hope Mills and the southwest side of Fayetteville. These precincts are on the opposite side of Fayetteville from the northeast Fayetteville Cross Creek 9 precinct that Lucas wanted.

Floyd said he is upset because his home, which is just south of the Cross Creek 9 precinct, was taken out of Dist. 44 and added to Dist. 42. He had been prepared to run against incumbent Democrat Charles Smith in Dist. 44, he said.

Smith told The Fayetteville Observer in October he never asked to have Floyd drawn out of Dist. 44.

Another precinct swap took a potential Democratic candidate out of the Dist. 42 election: former Fayetteville City Councilman Larry O. Wright.

The original proposed boundary between Dist. 42 and 45 in west Fayetteville was going to run continuously along Raeford Road, starting from the Hoke County line and ending near Raeford Road’s intersection with Skibo Road. This put Wright’s home in Dist. 42.

With the change on Oct. 23, the boundary between Dist. 42 and Dist. 45 hooks north in the 71st community of Raeford Road to take in Wright’s precinct, then cuts back down again. Now Wright’s home is in Dist. 45, served by Democratic Rep. Frances V. Jackson.

“I probably would have run,” Wright said this week, had his home remained in Dist. 42.

Does Wright think someone targeted him to keep him out of the Dist. 42 race?

“It’s possible,” he said.

Wright did not file for the Dist. 45 election. “I wouldn’t run against Frances. I think she’s the right person for the position,” he said.

Jackson is unopposed for reelection this year.

Chain reaction spreads across the election district map

Hawkins, the Durham lawmaker who handled the Democrats’ map requests, said precincts were swapped between the three Democratic-leaning districts in Cumberland County because changes made to one district force mapmakers to alter nearby districts. He described it as a chain reaction.

He had these constraints:

  • The Republicans wouldn’t allow alteration of GOP-leaning districts.
  • The maps had to avoid splitting voting precincts.
  • The Constitution requires all districts to be roughly equal in population. This is to ensure all residents have equal representation in the legislature. (In practice, each state House district must be within 5% of 86,995 people  — at least 82,646, but no more than 91,244.)

Another rule that Hawkins didn’t mention: The districts must be contiguous — one district cannot have an “island” within another district’s boundaries.

Cross Creek 9 on Ramsey Street did not border Dist. 42, so the Westarea 2 voting precinct was used as a bridge to connect it to the district.

If that were all that were done, according to a CityView analysis of the district map, Dist. 42 would have too many people in it — 92,637 — to be constitutional. And Dist. 44 would have too few, with 73,401.

So the lawmakers had to add and remove other precincts elsewhere to bring the populations back into the constitutional range of 86,995 plus-or-minus 5%. This isn’t always easy to do, because the voting precinct populations vary widely.

But was it necessary to involve Dist. 45? The new map pulled the Lafayette Village area off Hope Mills Road and Raeford Road from Dist. 45 and put it in Dist. 44. A few miles down Raeford Road, the new map pulled former Councilman Wright’s precinct, which runs along 71st School Road, from Dist. 42 and put it in Dist. 45.

What do the other Dist. 42 Democratic candidates think?

With Lucas retiring from office, the open Dist. 42 seat attracted four Democratic candidates: Floyd, Colvin, Naveed Aziz of Spring Lake and Fayetteville City Councilwoman Courtney Banks-McLaughlin.

The winner will face Republican Leonard L. Bryant in the November general election.

What do Aziz and Banks-McLaughlin think about how the maps were changed? Do they believe it was done for candidate Mike Colvin?

“There’s many speculations, and I would not want to go into any of those speculations at this time,” Aziz said. “To be honest, I believe that the representatives should be chosen by the people, not that the representatives choose their voters.”

Aziz said she “has no problem” with the map or Lucas’ request, and is prepared to campaign and meet the voters.

“Apparently it looks like gerrymandering,” she said. “We say that the Republicans should not gerrymander, and they gerrymander all the time. But I’ve seen gerrymandering by the Democrats, also.”

“It looks like politics,” Banks-McLaughlin said. “I don’t like the change. But that’s what happens when you have people in positions — you vote, and the majority wins.”

She said she dislikes the revised map because “it actually brought other …  precincts into Dist. 42, which was not there before.”

Regardless of the boundaries, Banks-McLaughlin said, “I just know that I’m running for that district, and I look forward to being a North Carolina state representative for Dist. 42.”

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

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elections 2024, cumberland, fayetteville, spring lake, hope mills, ncga