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Decrease in black voting age population causes anxiety in Forsyth

by Keith Barber

The proposed maps outlining changes to Forsyth County legislative districts released earlier this month by state Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) and Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) generated a good deal of discussion during a redistricting hearing at GTCC’s Jamestown campus on June 23.

Fleming El-Amin, former chair of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, said he is concerned about the redrawing of House Districts 71 and 72 and the resulting decrease in the percentage of total black votingage citizens. Under the proposed map, District 71, which is represented by Rep. Larry Womble, would see its voting-age African-American population decrease from 51 percent to 47 percent. Also under the proposal, House District 72, which is represented by Rep. Earline Parmon, would see its percentage of voting-age African-American population drop from 45 percent to 43 percent.

“They may seem small percentages but in fact when you’re dealing with people who have questionable motivations, those small percentages make a big difference,” El-Amin said.

Census data suggests that changes in House Districts 71 and 72 are demographic rather than political. The 2010 Census shows a decrease of 1,700 voting-age African-American citizens in District 71 and a significant increase in voting-age whites and Hispanics. District 72, however, revealed an increase of 4,500 voting-age African American citizens from 2000 to 2010, a significant increase in Hispanic voting-age residents and a decrease in the number of voting-age whites.

In 2003, whites composed 51 percent of the voting-age population of District 72. Under the current proposal, whites will make up only

43 percent of the voting-age population in Parmon’s district. Black and Hispanic voters would create a majority under the Lewis plan.

By comparison, a redistricting plan released last week by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in Durham proposes even lower percentages of voting-age African Americans in both House District 71 and District 72.

"NC_House_SCSJ_Map.jpg"

Southern Coalition for Social Justice NC House map. (courtesy image)

House District 71, House District 72 and Senate District 32 are all below ideal population and must expand to remain in compliance with the Constitutional requirement of equal representation.

A joint letter issued by Lewis and Rucho in mid-June noted that it is not possible to create two majority African- American House districts in Forsyth County or a majority black Senate district in the county. Based on the inability of a black candidate to win a primary in Senate District 32 — currently at 42.5 percent black voting age population — Lewis has recommended a 43-percent threshold for black voting age population in the two House districts. Rucho, his Senate counterpart, recommended creating the new District 32 at 39.3 percent.

Rucho and Lewis said their proposals are designed to help Forsyth County comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

To meet population requirements under the Voting Rights Act, House District 71 would be expanded south to the Davidson County line. House District 72 would expand to encompass the area just north of Robinhood Road and take in an area east of Reidsville Road.

Parmon and Womble attended last week’s hearing at GTCC. Parmon said she would refrain from commenting on the changes to the 72 nd District until Rucho and Lewis release their proposal for the entire state.

Womble echoed Parmon’s sentiments. “I’m not going to make any judgments right now because this is a proposal,” Womble said. “We’ve got to go back in July and look at the real maps at that time — these are just proposals and I have no particular position on these proposals.”

El-Amin also took issue with Rucho and Lewis’ proposal to cut Sen. Linda Garrou (D-Forsyth) out of District 32. Garrou has represented District 32 for seven terms.

“I have never seen a map drawn to isolate a specific public figure like you have with Sen. Linda Garrou,” El-Amin said. “It’s really unethical for you to draw a map specifically to remove a resident from her community she represents for a number of years.”In addition to his statement that he doesn’t believe it’s possible to create a majority black Senate district in Forsyth, Rucho added, “the white incumbent has defeated African-American candidates in Democratic primaries in 2004 and 2010.”

The proposed District 32 allows black voting age population to decrease from 42.5 percent to 38.4 percent. The new district’s white non-Hispanic population would stand at 46.6 percent, creating a coalition black- Latino majority district. Rucho has argued that the proposed district’s demographic makeup would “provide African-American citizens with a more equal, and 10 th opportunity, to elect a candidate of choice.”

Susan Campbell, chair of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, described the move as “a blatant attempt to draw Sen. Garrou out of office,” during the public comment period at last week’s hearing.

Campbell asked rhetorically how reducing the percentage of the voting-age black population in District 32 would actually increase the chances that an African- American would be elected to the NC Senate.

“The Republican majority would have us believe their efforts are designed to ensure greater representative opportunities for the African Americans in our state and by taking Sen. Garrou out of the 32 nd District, an African American would have a greater chance to win an election,” Campbell said. “I agree with the critics of the redistricting proposals who state the grouping of African Americans into districts increases Republican control of the other districts.

The reason for drawing Garrou out of her district “can only be to silence her,” El-Amin said.

“She’s well-respected in the Democratic Party and she has a lot of outreach that she does in the 32 nd District,” he added. “Whoever advised them to do that wasn’t thinking about Forsyth County — they were thinking about the Republican position.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s proposed redistricting map keeps Sen. Garrou’s house in the 32 nd District.

Several speakers, including El-Amin, expressed concern about the lawmakers’ release of partial information. He said citizens have a right to see the proposed map for all legislative districts in the state to see how the minority legislative districts fit into the bigger picture.

“I would hope that your intent in honoring the Voting Rights Act are very transparent,” El-Amin said.

“Transparency should be the birthright of every American citizen, so we should see what we’re voting on, see what we’re actually commenting on in its entirety.”

The Supreme Court ruled in its Thornburg v. Gingles decision in 1986 that to ensure the rights of minority groups to elect their candidate of choice the minority group must be “sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district.”

There are currently nine House districts with a majority black voting age population in the state, and none in the NC Senate. The Republican proposal would create 24 districts in the House with a voting-age black majority and nine in the Senate.

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