Expert Witness Claims North Carolina Voting Maps Intentionally Gerrymandered

A screenshot from publicly available files of Republican mapmaker Thomas Hofeller appears to show that the mapmaker copied district maps from previous years, including gerrymandered 2011 maps.

RALEIGH, NC (CN) – Billions of possible maps randomly sketched out by a computer show that political mapmakers intentionally bolstered Republican candidates in state elections, a witness for plaintiffs in North Carolina’s gerrymandering trial said Monday. 

Files of a deceased Republican-employed mapmaker, Thomas Hofeller, were displayed for the first time publicly during the trial Friday, when expert witness Christopher Cooper testified on behalf of the North Carolina Democratic Party, an advocacy group called Common Cause and more than 30 voters who brought the partisan gerrymandering-related case against North Carolina lawmakers.

On day six of the state’s trial to determine whether Hofeller’s maps were gerrymandered, using partisan data to ensure a Republican majority, the three-judge panel received a lengthy math lesson from a new witness. 

Hofeller, whose estranged daughter turned over his district mapping files to Common Cause, died last year. He drew the maps that are being challenged, which were adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017, after the state was ordered to replace the racially gerrymandered 2011 maps that Hofeller also created.

Colorful simulations of North Carolina’s legislative district maps swiftly flickered on the wall of a Raleigh court Monday, but these projected maps, created by plantiffs’ expert witness Wesley Pegden, never existed in reality.

Starting with the adopted 2017 district maps for state House and Senate, the mathematician programmed an algorithm to randomly draw district lines using the same regulations that governed Hofeller, including rules that voting districts need to be connected and roughly equal in population. 

Pegden told judges on Monday to consider a person taking a walk around a city from intersection to intersection, randomly choosing which direction to go at each juncture. That is what he programmed his algorithm to do while it drew the millions of maps that could have been, and he compared them to find outliers.

Tom Hofeller, who died in 2018, speaks during an event at the Republican National Committee in Washington in 2001. Hofeller’s files are at the center of a North Carolina gerrymandering trial. (C-SPAN via AP)

In line with last week’s witnesses in the trial who performed different types of statistical analysis, Pegden said that his algorithm could not produce a map that benefited Republicans more than the maps that were drawn by Hofeller and enacted by the General Assembly in 2017.

“These maps are so gerrymandered that no matter how you do the analysis, no matter who does the analysis, no matter which side is doing the analysis, you reach the same answer with any analysis that you do,” Pedgen said of Hofeller’s maps on Monday. 

He testified that the 2017 district maps must have been drawn with careful precision to advantage Republicans over Democratic candidates, since simulated maps based on Hofeller’s could not even come close to reflecting the same level of political bias.

Pegden said a “sea of fairer maps” than the 2017 district maps could have been drawn. 

“That is enough to know that this was done on purpose,” Pedgen said.

Pedgen, an associate professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s department of mathematical sciences, previously used his unique mathematical theorem in another gerrymandering case to prove that a Pennsylvania voting map was drawn with partisan intent, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf appointed the mathematician to serve on that state’s redistricting reform commission. 

After the U.S. Supreme Court declined in June to take up North Carolina’s issue, the plaintiffs brought the case to the Superior Court in Raleigh. They say 95 of the 170 state House and Senate districts drawn two years ago violate the North Carolina Constitution’s free speech and association protections.

North Carolina’s Democratic Party chair Wayne Goodwin also testified Monday and said the state’s House and Senate have spent an “extraordinary amount” of time and money trying to figure out how to best serve residents of the Tarheel State in the face of a “seawall” that blocked the national and statewide “blue wave” during the 2018 midterm elections. 

Despite a massive rise in Democratic funding for the North Carolina 2018 midterms, Goodwin said, a possible Democratic majority in the state “was stopped in its tracks” by alleged Republican-favored gerrymandering. 

Goodwin said his party would have fought for fair elections and district maps regardless of which side triumphed in the midterms. 

Phillip Strach, chief counsel for state Republican legislators, said the plaintiffs are wrongfully attempting to remove the legislature’s power in determining voting districts, and unconstitutionally putting a political decision in the hands of a court. 

During Monday’s cross-examination, Goodwin was asked to read aloud a letter sent by political campaign consultant Scott Falmlen in August 2017.

Falmlen’s said in his letter, which allegedly was sent to Democratic caucus members, that “the power to draw districts must be taken from the legislature or our democracy is doomed.”

Goodwin said he had not seen the email until a deposition in May, when it was first presented as evidence in the case.

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