By Richard Sullins | firstname.lastname@example.org
A multi-month process to redraw electoral districts for the Lee County Board of Commissioners ended Monday night after a tense meeting in which a Republican plan to adopt a proposal which had not been presented to the public before two weeks ago passed along party lines.
So-called “Plan F” was adopted 4-3 Monday night, with the board’s Republican majority prevailing. The vote followed discussion among the board’s members and comments from the public criticizing the majority’s lack of transparency in developing the new map.
Plan F faced criticism on Oct. 4, not only over its surprise appearance, but also because it appeared to reduce the number of African-American residents in the county’s only majority-minority district.
Several citizens showed up Monday to express their displeasure. Linda Rhodes of Sanford was the first to the podium and said the commissioners’ process in drawing up the maps “lacked the transparency that Lee County voters have experienced in the past and the respect that our citizens deserve.”
“Even though the county attorney advised against it, at least two county commissioners requested information that North Carolina courts have ruled should not be considered when drawing electoral maps. (Republican) Commissioners (Kirk) Smith and (Bill) Carver made it known that they wanted to use political and voter data to create maps, therefore partisan data for political gain,” she said.
Rhodes said “it is clear that Map F was created for only one purpose – to dilute the minority population in District 1,” represented by Democratic Commissioner Robert Reives Sr.
“This board has also failed to solicit any public comments on Map F’s potential changes to minority opportunity districts,” Rhodes continued. “Without a public hearing, voters have been denied the right to ask questions, provide suggestions, or hold the board accountable before a vote occurs. The four commissioners that have engaged in this underhanded and unethical behavior have only one concern – they only care about not getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar.”
Lacrecia Reives went further, saying “the Lee County Board of Commissioners’ proposed Plan F manipulates District 1 and undermines the ability for black voters in Lee County to elect their candidate of choice. The same tactics of excluding black voters that led Lee County to change its election methods and place the county under the scrutiny of the Voting Rights Act are at work again in proposed Plan F.”
Other speakers included former Democratic State Rep. Leslie Cox, who warned the board about potential consequences if district lines were drawn based on anything other than population.
“If what you’re talking about doing happens tonight, your attorney had better start eating her Wheaties because it looks like that map draws the ire of the most people in this county,” he said.
But it was soft-spoken Brenda Johnson of Sanford who spoke directly to the heart of what is at stake in the redistricting process.
“The same tactics of excluding black voters that led Lee County to change its election methods and place the county under the scrutiny of the Voting Rights Act [in 1989] are at work again,” she said.
Johnson also brought the matter to the attention of the Durham nonprofit the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
A letter from the group’s legal counsel, Mitchell Brown, had been placed at each of the commissioners’ seats prior to the start of the meeting. Brown wrote that his nonprofit civil rights organization “partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the South to defend and advance their political, social, and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing, and communications.”
The letter reminded commissioners of a lawsuit filed by the Lee County Chapter of the NAACP in 1989 that led to an overhaul of the county’s district lines and the way it elected its commissioners. It went on to claim that Plan F, drawn up shortly before the October 4 meeting, was developed “behind closed doors in a process that lacked the transparency needed to instill public confidence” in both the process and the product.
In an interview with The Rant, Brown accused the Republican commissioners of running “a Houdini show” with the final three versions of the plan that did not receive a proper opportunity for the public to review and comment before the next one was produced. He said his organization will be looking at the voting age population data to see how the increase or decrease among minorities tracks with the general population and that their review is ongoing.
After 50 minutes of public comments, the board began a heated, hour-long discussion of its options, in which Democrats attempted to hone their basic point – that Republicans had confused the public in order to affect a reverse-engineered, gerrymandered map so that they could hold onto their political advantage.
Democratic commissioners during the meeting proposed the adoption of two other versions of the political boundary maps, Plans A and G, and each attempt failed along party lines. City and County GIS Strategic Services Director Don Kovasckitz explained again that Plan A showed the smallest change from the existing map adopted in 2011. Further iterations offered greater differences from the current map.
Plan G, like its two immediate predecessors, was produced with virtually no public notice shortly before the meeting. It was apparently an effort to conceptualize a compromise that Reives had offered for moving only half of the voters into his district that Plan F would have mandated.
With the defeat of Plans A and G, Democratic Commissioner Cameron Sharpe went on the offensive.
“I know what the end game is here. I think the end game is to try to put Mr. Reives out in the next election. It is glaringly evident,” he said. “And I think it is a shame, it’s morally and ethically wrong.”
Sharpe asked on two occasions “why this [Plan F] is the best map for Lee County.”
After 15 seconds of total silence Republican Commissioner Andre Knecht said “I think that, as all the other maps as well do, it meets all the necessary parameters and does take into account the future growth as well that may be coming. It may throw some things out of balance.”
“I don’t feel that this was set up as a map that is to, as you put it, oust Commissioner Reives. I don’t think that at all,” Knecht continued. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for the gentleman and he is aware of that. So, I think it’s a good map. It meets all the parameters. It’s compact, contiguous, keeps the precincts, keeps a majority-minority district.”
Sharpe responded, “I think about 10 people in this building believe what you just said about taking Mr. Reives out of his district, and that’s no disrespect to you. But I think there’s about 10 who believe that.”
The prospect that the plan might be challenged in court was on the mind of at least one of the Republican commissioners. Carver looked directly at Sharpe and said “if someday we have to stand in front of a judge and justify why we picked (Plan F), everything that I have said is consistent with that. There was no motivation at the beginning of designing this plan to intentionally disenfranchise anybody. And when we got finished, we looked at what the percentages of the population are and there was not a significant change in it. So, it wasn’t a question of being slick or whatever. It’s just a question of picking one that I think works.”
After the vote, discussion continued. Republican Vice Chair Arianna Lavallee said “Plan F met the criteria. It met what needed to be met and I strongly object any untrue claims that this was an effort to remove a commissioner from his seat. It’s untrue and it’s unfounded and I object [to] that claim. I want to make that very public.”
Sharpe, formerly an elected Republican prior to his party switch in 2015, disagreed.
“Well, I want to make it very clear to rebut what Ms. Lavallee said,” he said. “It’s been that way for eight or 10 years, that it was the plan.”
It was Smith who ended the two-hour public session of the board’s meeting with this reflection on the redistricting process.
“There was no intent to disthrone [sic] or dethrone or take anyone out of their district,” he said. “We were talking about such percentages that were so small that essentially it’s, well, you’ve all heard the old adage of government business being about like watching sausage being made and I apologize for that, but it seems to be what happened this evening.”
Well now, again it’s the longest battle in history..
The Hattfields in the Macoys..
Never a winner, and always hurt feelings…
Why can’t we all just agree to keep what’s best for our county as a whole…
And stop the bologna….
Just as many expected….Republican Gerrymandering looks like it won the day… hopefully it will fail to do what it was designed to do.
The Democratic Party will just redouble voter registration efforts and get everyone out to vote in coming elections.
You mean the Dems will be trolling cemeteries jotting down names of voters? The Dens/radical left/socialist/communists are the cancer of our society! Has ANYTHING ever been more evident in the history of mankind? LETS GO BRANDON!!!!!
Another fine example of biased reporting. Deliberately laying out that Republican members asked about voter information but strategically leave out the fact that when they were informed, it was illegal, they retracted the request. I want to support, “The Rant”. This kind of reporting is what makes me not want to. It is clear, “The Rant” is incapable of writing in a manner that reports a fact based story that is complete and in context. It clearly supports one political party over another. This may satisfy their single sided customer base. Sadly it ignores the majority of people. Your readership could increase greatly if you stop with the bias and start reporting events, and facts as they are and let your readers decide. Has The Rant ever written one article critical of any Democrat? Has The Rant ever questioned the intentions of Democrats in Lee County? If someone is a Republican you can bet the media will be instantly hyper-critical of anything that is said or done while anything a Democrat does is completely ignored and justified.
No win situation
Kimberly, to support your assertion that The Rant isn’t biased. I would like you to find just one article written by The Rant that is critical of any Democrat or Democrat policy in Lee County. It isn’t realistic that any political party is without any form of faults and the fact the media will never criticize the Democrats is proof of bias.
Hi Dale. Since you asked for “just one” article, that’s what I’ll give you. There are more, of course, so don’t go moving the goalposts!
That being said, our goal is not to be critical, and I don’t think either of these articles are that. They are factual accounts of events and actions taken by individuals and groups. If our coverage makes someone feel defensive, well that’s on them.
The only fix for any of it is to vote blue. The Republican Party has fallen apart, and any representatives left calling themselves Republican have no shame, and must go. Gerrymandering, in 2021, after the courts have slapped NC again and again over it is shameless and, really, just stupid.
Many people throw out the term, “Gerrymandering” and don’t know what they are talking about. They consider it Gerrymandering if they believe a districting decision will hurt their political position yet are perfectly fine with it if the decision benefits them. The reality is both ways are Gerrymandering if the political composition of a district is critical in the decision making of the district boundaries. Since we know this is now illegal and was not taken into account when the decision was made, and in fact when an attempt to get political data was retracted and the data was never acquired therefore could not be used. I would like to know where you get your determination of Gerrymandering?
The Republicans made this map at the last minute, in secret, after asking for partisan data that it is illegal for them to consider. Their new map in fact does mess with the districts to minimize the voting power of minorities in the county. The Republicans did this as part of a long pattern of Republicans doing the exact same thing, for decades, and being told to stop over and over again by the courts. This is absolutely, clearly, gerrymandering and it will absolutely go to court again and the Republicans will absolutely ignore the courts, again, until there is real Federal oversight. Because the Republican Party, both in NC and nationally, continues to show that it cannot be trusted when it comes to voting rights.
If you don’t think it was taken into consideration I have a bridge in Brooklyn to well you.
And it’s a two way street , let’s not forget that…..
Plenty of politicians should be in jail….
That doesn’t make any sense. You have Republicans here clearly doing something wrong, and you try to make a equivalence by pointing to absolutely nothing? I haven’t seen the Democrats in this county do anything shady, while we have had a Republican school bird member participate in trying to bully the Congress on Jan 6, and now this blatant gerrymandering. There is no equivalence here. The problems are all coming from one direction: the right.
The racist GOP in Lee County wins again. There will be a lawsuit and emails and texts will be subpoenaed.
Will, I sure hope you’re right. I think it would be a good idea at this point for the courts to be able to presume gerrymandering and throw out any map that has the effect of minimizing minority voting power. Having to find the exact email where someone says “aha, yes we are gerrymandering again” seems silly at this point. A bad map is a bad map, period.
Funny a democratic senator is on video letting in The rioters that were bused in by George Soros ….
Get a grip y’all
Both parties are guilty of shenanigans…….
Sadly this person needs professional mental health counseling & it seems unavailable.
The biggest idiot of all Democrats is sittings in the White House ruining this country. Lee county is small time compared to what stupid is doing. We are few years from becoming Canada or some other socialist country. No more Democrats and their socialist agenda.
Might be a stupid question but someone please explain to me how this is affecting voting rights for minorities? Or somehow taking their voting rights away?
Pretend there is a county with three neighborhoods, A, B and C. A and C are white, and B is black. Each neighborhood has 500 residents. The residents of A and C vote Republican while the residents of B vote Democrat.
The county government is drawing up district maps.
If each neighborhood was its own district, then each neighborhood would elect its own representative, and you would have 2 Republicans and 1 Democrat elected. This is how Map 1 is drawn.
For Map 2, each neighborhood is split into 3 pieces, and contributes 1 of its pieces to each of 3 new districts. So the first district contains 1/3 of neighborhood A, 1/3 of neighborhood B and 1/3 of neighborhood C. The other two districts are constructed the same way. Now, you have the same residents living in the same places voting the same way, but each district election ends up with 2/3 of its constituents voting Republican and 1/3 voting Democrat. The Republicans now win every election in each district, and you end up with 3 Republican representatives.
In our real-life case, the Democrats developed maps like the first scenario, and let people examine them and test them and criticize them all they wanted before holding a vote. Then the Republicans came in at the last minute with a map like the second scenario, that cut up a minority area to dilute minority votes, to help Republicans keep control of the area.
I hope that helps.
Something to think about. I wonder why Democrats love the concept of a minority majority district? They argue that it is to ensure that minorities have a political voice. I wonder if it has anything to do with minorities historically voting Democrat? What would the Democrat position be if the minority communities ever shift towards Republicans? Is nobody concerned that Democrats think the minority communities are monolithic in their views and political positions? Am I the only one that thinks that minority majority requirements also seems like a form of soft segregation? What an interesting subject to think about. Let’s keep all the minorities in their own little district and create a law that requires it. If white people start moving into that area then we demonize them by calling it Gentrification and making it racist. All of these tactics are rooted in political power and nothing to do with equality, or equity. How much equality and equity exists in a district that is forced to be its own little minority enclave. Why is there a belief that only a minority can fight for the needs of minority communities? I will say there are two major issues that needs to change. Republicans need to start going to minority districts and listen to what their concerns are and come up with realistic solutions. Part of the reason Democrats dominate in the minority community is because they talk to the people that live there and offer solutions, then everyone complains about the solutions. Well republicans, when did you offer a solution? When did you go and try to learn what the concerns of the minority communities are and offer alternative solutions? All of these ideas of predominantly white districts and minority majority districts is still segregation, it is still “The other side of the tracks” mindset. Is the minority majority district a low income area? (I don’t know) I am asking. If it is, why? What are we as a community doing to increase the economic prowess of this district? Does it need to have economic improvements? I have a lot of questions that I would love to talk to someone about this district and come up with real solutions to solve the issues. I just don’t like an “Us” and “Them” scenario. I like a “We” scenario. Maybe it is all just wishful thinking and we as a society will always be divided amongst racial lines, political lines, gender lines, economic lines. Maybe we live to be in our own little boxes and feel threatened and will fight to stay in our box. Maybe the divine concept of, “Love thy neighbor” is beyond our grasp and we will always fight for our own little box. May you all be safe and in Gods Grace.