Hopes of a single district for Union County not likely
At least on the federal level, the latest round of redistricting did little to change Union County.
On Friday, July 1, the North Carolina House and Senate Joint Committee for Redistricting released their proposed Congressional Redistricting plan, with maps for public review and comment.
Referred to as the “Rucho-Lewis Congress 1” plan, so named for Senator Bob Rucho, Chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee and Representative David Lewis, the Chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, the joint committees have held 36 public hearings, scheduling the last round for July 18, 2011, covering the proposed legislative plans.
In advance of the plan release, there was speculation that Union County might be redrawn into a single congressional district, based in large part on the county’s phenomenal growth over the last decade.
Instead, the County remains split between two congressional districts, the eighth and the ninth.
“I am very disappointed in the proposed maps that I have seen for congressional redistricting.” NC House Representative Craig Horn said. “Union County continues to be split with a portion in each of two congressional districts.
“The result severely dilutes Union County’s impact on the election at the federal level.” Horn said. “If Union County is left whole, we would play a major role in deciding who runs for and who is elected to represent us in the United States Congress.
“As it stands we have no significant influence in either congressional district, the eighth or the ninth.”, Horn said.
District 8, under the new plan consists of 13 counties, an addition of three more counties over the 2001 plan. The percentage of Union County voters in District 8 declined by 9 percent, the balance shifting west into District 9; County voters represent only 5.85 percent of the district in total.
In District 9, the County’s percentage of the district grew from the 2001 plan, but continues to be dwarfed by Mecklenburg County, whose voters account for 66 percent of the overall district population. Newly added to District 9, replacing Gaston County, is Iredell County, which accounts for 11.5 percent and Union County, the remaining 21.5 percent of the total.
More residents, no change in representation
During the last decade, Union County was one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. According to the 2010 Census, Union grew by a staggering 68.5 percent to a population of 201,292 citizens. During the same period, North Carolina’s population increased by 18.5 percent to 9,535,483 people. For the 2011 redistricting plan, each of the state’s 13 congressional districts will represent 733,499 North Carolinians, an increase of 114,279 over 2001.
Union County Republican Party Chairman and Ninth District Vice-Chair John Steward views the Rucho-Lewis plan from a different perspective.
When asked how he expects the redistricting plan to effect Union County and the Ninth District, Stewart said, “Republicans have never asked for specially drawn districts that favored our Party, we just wanted a level playing field.”
“Gaston County has been a great partner in the 9th District, and we hate to lose their valuable help.” Steward said. “However, we are also excited to welcome part of Iredell back to the 9th District.”
Stressing the positive aspect of the proposed changes to the eighth district, Steward recognised the predominant rural character of the eighth.
“Since the 8th District is largely rural, the boundaries had to grow to encompass enough citizens.” Steward said, “The voter make up of the 8th District will change from leaning Democrat to leaning Republican.”
A press release issued by Joint Committee Chairs Rucho and Lewis with the Redistricting plan went into great detail about the process the Committee followed to arrive at a finished plan. They cited 36 public hearings, including 24 in counties covered by the Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 5 specifies that certain states and counties must receive federal pre-clearance before any changes can be made to voting jurisdictions. Forty counties in North Carolina, including Union County, are subject to the Section 5 provisions. In 2006, Congress reauthorized the requirements of Section 5 through the year 2032.
Rucho and Lewis stressed their efforts to continue the tradition as reflected in the 2001 plan to divide urban counties into more than one congressional district, citing the belief, also held by prior legislative leadership, that the urban counties are best represented by multiple members of Congress.
North Carolina General Assembly reconvenes on July 13, 2011 to complete the redistricting process for both congressional and state house and senate districts.
The redistricting plan approved by the House and Senate are not subject to a veto by the governor, but will require federal preclearance before the plan is implemented.