RALEIGH — The plans to redraw legislative districts in the state will likely affect Surry County, according to one of the two legislators who represents the area.
One possible change could force a veteran lawmaker into a primary battle with another incumbent Republican senator.
N.C. Rep. Sarah Stevens, who serves as the N.C. House of Representatives speaker pro tem, said after a few days of working on new districts for legislators, it appears as if Surry County may be split into two House districts.
It also appears that N.C. Sen. Shirley Randleman, the Wilkes County Republican who represents Surry County in the upper chamber of the General Assembly, could end up residing in the same district as Sen. Deanna Ballard, who now represents Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell and Watauga counties.
In June the United States Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling which ordered lawmakers to redistrict. The ruling declared 28 legislative districts to have been unconstitutionally gerrymandered based on race.
Lawmakers have until Sept. 1 to redraw the districts.
Stevens and 40 other legislators are spearheading the effort to redraw the districts, and she noted that on one day the committee heard testimony from citizens. Residents may also go to one of a number of computers set up at the capitol building to submit a drawing of what they believe districts ought to look like.
Another day was spent deciding the criteria which would guide the legislators through the process.
The committee’s first concern is that all districts are equal in population. The criteria, based on 2010 census data, allows only a 5-percent deviation from an even split in the population numbers.
Secondly, the committee will ensure contiguity in districts, meaning one part of the district is not broken off from the main body. Contiguity by water is acceptable.
The districts should also be as compact as possible, and legislators intend to attempt to keep municipalities entirely in a single district wherever possible rather than split them between more than one.
The committee will also make reasonable efforts to ensure two incumbents don’t end up in the same district, as could be the case with Randleman. Election data may be used, but legislators will not consider data which reflects race.
Majority-minority, no no
Stevens said the court case began as a result of mandates in the federal Voting Rights Act. The law required that North Carolina have some districts which are referred to as majority-minority districts.
A majority-minority district is a district which has a population comprised primarily of a racial minority. The requirement was in place to ensure African-Americans had representation in the former slave-holding states.
Stevens said the maps approved in 2011 included such districts. However, it was always a little fuzzy for legislators. Legislators approved maps which considered race, as they were supposed to do, but then a court threw out the districts because they considered race.
Some Democrats introduced criteria regarding race and matters such as “partisan symmetry,” said Stevens.
According to a document Stevens had, Sen. Ben Clark, a Democrat who represents Cumberland and Hoke counties, asked the committee to consider a plan that “treated both major parties symmetrically in terms of votes to seats.”
Democrats also didn’t want incumbency to be considered, since they are the minority party.
Stevens said the criteria the committee adopted makes the redistricting game pretty simple though.
All about the numbers
Stevens did have maps in her possession on Friday, but they weren’t legislative district maps. They were maps created through a process Stevens called “podding.”
A House district must contain between 75,489 and 83,435 people, and a Senate district must have between 181,174 and 200,245 people who reside in it.
Stevens noted that only the 28 challenged legislative districts had to be redrawn. However, if legislators started tinkering with those lines, changes would have affected other districts not ruled unconstitutional. Thus, they started fresh.
Podding takes counties and groups them together based on population, explained Stevens. For instance, Mecklenburg is a single pod which contains five Senate districts and 12 House districts. In more sparsely populated areas, a number of contiguous counties are grouped together to form a pod filled with enough people for any number of legislative districts.
In the eastern part of the state, Dare County and ten others would make one Senate district. Duplin and Onslow counties would become three House districts. The process groups counties in whatever matter can make the numbers work.
Effects on Surry
Stevens warned that any maps floating around aren’t a proposed legislative map. They are a result of the podding process — a start to identifying where some lines will be drawn and to keep as many counties entirely in one district as is possible.
Stevens said it’s looking as if Surry County will have to be split. The county, at a population of 73,673, is just shy of meeting the number of people needed to be a single House district. Stevens now represents a small portion of Wilkes County.
However, N.C. Rep. Kyle Hall, who represents Stokes County, is likely to need more people in his district. Currently, he has more of Rockingham County than he would have in a future plan. Those extra people would have to come from Surry. Thus, Stevens’ district would include more voters from outside of Surry. She doesn’t yet know from what county they will come. Wilkes and Alleghany are the potential candidates.
The big news, however, is how the exercise of podding affects the Senate. Eight counties — Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Wilkes, Surry, Stokes, Rockingham and Caswell — were grouped together to create a region in which two Senate districts would be drawn.
However, three senators reside in those eight counties.
Sen. Phil Berger, who is the President Pro Tem of the state senate, is from Rockingham County. That county has 93,643 residents. To the east of Berger, Caswell County has only 23,719 residents. To the west, Stokes has 47,401 To reach the threshold for a district, Berger’s district now includes part of Guilford County. However, in the new plan, Guilford isn’t in the same pod as Rockingham.
That means another 16,411 residents will be needed to complete Berger’s district, and Surry would be the only contiguous county included in the pod.
That means if the committee sticks with its podding scheme, Berger is destined to represent part of Surry County.
That would leave another Senate district comprised of part of Surry and all of Wilkes, Alleghany, Ashe and Watauga counties.
Randleman now represents Wilkes, Surry and a portion of Stokes County. Ballard represents Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell and Watauga counties.
After explaining the possible change and noting that nothing is final, Stevens said it is very possible that Ballard and Randleman will end up in the same district.
If neither was to call it quits in the General Assembly, the two would have to square off in a primary election in 2018.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.