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'The gauntlet has been thrown down.' | Republicans cry foul as city begins redistricting

In a testy exchange during WCNC's Flashpoint, two Charlotte city councilmen debate the city's redistricting process.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Before a single district map is drawn, members of Charlotte city council's committee on redistricting are at odds over the process.

"It's slippery," said Ed Driggs (R), district 7 republican council member.

Driggs appeared on WCNC's Flashpoint with committee chair Malcolm Graham, a Democrat on the council. Driggs accused Graham of holding a vote on the criteria involved in redistricting without Driggs, the lone Republican on the committee, present.

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"I didn't appreciate it," Driggs said. I was just coming from a procedure at a doctor's office, and I was ambushed at the meeting." 

The committee struck down a requirement that would create a balance between major political parties within districts, arguing it's not possible in such a left-leaning city. In all, Charlotte has eleven city council members, with only two republicans. Depending on how the district lines are drawn, republicans could be reduced to only one seat.  Republicans represent approximately a fifth of the voters in the city.

After the U.S. census, each council district has an unequal amount of residents living within their boundaries. 

Here is the breakdown of the number of residents in each council district: 

  • District 1: 114,285 residents
  • District 2: 133,399 residents
  • District 3: 142,218 residents
  • District 4: 133,819 residents
  • District 5: 116,618 residents
  • District 6: 113,719 residents
  • District 7: 125,130 residents

The goal is to make each district have about 125,298 residents. The only district that is hitting that goal is Drigg's district seven, which will likely be left alone, according to the city. 

In a testy exchange, Graham argued that Driggs had the chance to express dismay over criteria vote but did not at the time.

"You're being disingenuous," Graham said to Driggs.  "I wish you would've expressed those comments, which you did not."

Graham said complaints from republicans are unfounded. He said he expects the committee will release preliminary maps that will keep the political status quo on the council with two republicans.

"Maps that are fair and balanced, that represent both parties, democrats and republicans," he said.  "At the end of the process, I think everyone will be reasonably happy." 

The issue echoes a similar decades-long debate at a statewide level about redistricting and gerrymandering, but with the opposite power dynamic: democrats complain republicans strategically limit democratic strongholds in drawing new districts.

"First and foremost, they're supposed to follow the notion of one person, one vote, equal population," Catawba College professor Michael Bitzer said.

Bitzer is the author of the "Redistricting & Gerrymandering in NC: Battlelines in the Tar Heel State."  After countless legal challenges, state republicans promised a more transparent process this year that ensures more fairness and openness.

"Charlotte city council has those same kind of criteria. But again, partisanship will be part of this. And also the protection of incumbents potentially," Bitzer said.

Here is the timeline for Charlotte city redistricting: 

  • Oct. 5: The redistricting committee will receive public comments and input on proposed, revised district maps being considered by the committee.
  • Oct. 18: The City Council will hold a public hearing on proposed, revised district maps.
  • Nov. 8: The City Council will vote to adopt revised district maps based on 2020 census data.
  • Nov. 12: The city will notify the local board of elections as to whether final revised maps will be available by Nov 17.
  • Nov. 17: The city's deadline to provide adopted district maps to the board of elections, in accordance with the law.

Contact Ben Thompson at bthompson@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Flashpoint is a weekly in-depth look at politics in Charlotte, North Carolina, South Carolina, and beyond with host Ben Thompson. Listen to the podcast weekly.
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