Hidden Valley residents warn City Council redistricting could dilute Black votes

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Residents of Hidden Valley, a historically Black neighborhood northeast of uptown, showed up to oppose two potential redistricting maps at a City Council meeting on Monday, saying the process could dilute the power of Black voters.

Under two of three proposed redistricting maps, the neighborhood would be moved from District 4, which has historically Black representation in council, to District 1, which has been historically represented by a white person.

Citing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, residents said the move would illegally dampen their voting rights by moving them into a district where they are not adequately represented.

“If you don’t listen to the law, we’re going to take you to court,” Charles Robinson, vice president of the Hidden Valley Community Association, told council members. “That’s something that neither of us wants.”

State and local governments must review and update their voting maps every decade based on changes in the population.

Voting districts are required to have substantially equal populations, and the once-a-decade release of U.S. Census data can reveal changes that show some districts more populous than others.

To balance the districts, the council members will move precincts — smaller tracts of land that typically coincide with neighborhood boundaries — from one district to another. That process redraws the lines that make up the districts’ boundaries, and determines which areas vote for which candidates.

For the Hidden Valley residents, the redrawing could move them into a historically white district where they are unlikely to be represented by a Black member of council.

Charlene Henderson, the precinct chair of District 82 in Hidden Valley, said the process was “racially polarized” and that Hidden Valley’s all-Black representation could be at stake.

“We want to make sure that we are drawing districts that afford communities an opportunity to elect a representative of our choice,” said Breanna White, who grew up in Hidden Valley and spoke Monday. “When communities are divided, our voting power is diluted, and it makes it difficult to advocate for our true needs.”

Consequences of redistricting

The City Council is reviewing three possible options in its redistricting process. The three maps move different precincts and would have different consequences.

Hidden Valley residents who spoke Monday favored Map A, which would move just three districts. Hidden Valley, under Map A, would stay in District 4, which is represented by Renee’ Johnson.

One issue with Map A is that it would move a Democratic-stronghold precinct into the historically-Republican District 6. Because of that, it would dilute the representation of Republicans there.

Additionally, the map does a poor job of planning for the future growth of districts — meaning that districts would likely become unbalanced in population within a few years, said Mac McCarley, the former city attorney who is now a partner with the law firm Parker Poe, which has helped manage the redistricting process.

McCarley objected to some of the Hidden Valley residents on Monday. He said their claim of violating the Civil Rights Act is based on a clause that has since been struck down by the Supreme Court. He added that, no matter what, some districts that sit on the border of districts will have to be moved.

Maps B and C, while they would move Hidden Valley into a historically white district, would not substantially dilute the overall Black population of District 4.

Malcolm Graham, the chair of the council’s Redistricting Ad Hoc Committee, told the concerned residents that Black voters would be poised to elect Black leaders in districts 2, 3 and 4. He added that District 1 is likely to have an open seat during the next election, and that a savvy resident with political ambition could make a successful run by organizing the voters there.

“There is no intention to disenfranchise anyone,” he said. “There is no intention to suppress anyone’s vote.”

Factors of redistricting

In addition to balancing population, officials must meet other criteria.

Courts have ruled, for example, that districts should be “reasonably compact.” This distinction is meant to make gerrymandering — the process of redrawing maps to benefit one political party — more difficult.

The council previously voted to not consider partisanship when redrawing its maps, though partisan demographics have been noted by the council in each of its new possible maps. Courts have ruled that they can consider the racial makeup of districts, but that race should not be the predominant factor.

They can also take into account the growth rate of districts.

District 3, in west Charlotte, grew to nearly 141,000 residents over the past decade, while Districts 1 and 6 have fewer than 115,000 residents. To be equal, each district would have close to 125,000 residents. Districts, by law, must be within 5% of that ideal district size.

The reason this matters is because governments are constitutionally obligated to hold a “one person one vote” standard, McCarley said.

If districts are too large, a person’s vote is less consequential than it would be in a smaller district.

Five of the city’s seven districts are outside that 5% range.

The council is also aiming to avoid splitting up neighborhoods between multiple districts.

The City Council is made up of seven district representatives, as well as four at-large members. There are currently two Republican members, both representing districts in the southern wedge of the city.

But even those districts are not solidly Republican.

In District 6, 30.7% of registered voters are Republican, 31.2% are Democrats and 38.1% are unaffiliated or belong to smaller parties.

In District 7, 32.7% are Republicans, 27.2% are Democrats and 40.1% unaffiliated.

Of the other five districts, the highest Republican registration is 16%. Republican registration citywide is 18.7%.

New districts will be in place for the next decade. The city is legally obligated to submit its final redistricting plan to the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections by Nov. 17. It plans to meet again to discuss its options and take a vote next month.

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