Judges Scrap Republicans’ Expert in NC Gerrymandering Trial

Tom Hofeller speaks during a 2001 event at the Republican National Committee in Washington. Hofeller, a mastermind of GOP redistricting, preached keeping electronic records secure. But after his death in 2018, his own files found their way to the heart of lawsuits over a U.S. census question on citizenship and North Carolina’s legislative redistricting. (C-SPAN via AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) – Flaws in an expert’s math found during North Carolina’s gerrymandering trial Thursday prompted a three-judge-panel in Raleigh to scrap analysis a witness for Republican lawmakers presented.

Number-crunching, conflicting witness testimonies and political bias accusations have dominated the past two weeks in North Carolina’s pivotal trial that may determine whether state House and Senate districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to stifle a Democratic majority.

If plaintiffs in the case —North Carolina’s chapter of Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party and more than 30 individuals— succeed in their claims against state Republican legislators, new district maps could be ordered redrawn before the 2020 elections.

Expert witness for Republican lawmakers and political scientist, Douglas Johnson, admitted on Thursday that some of his testimony he made on the defendant’s behalf during a direct examination Wednesday was incorrect.

The three Superior Court judges sided with the map challengers’ counsel and struck some of Johnson’s testimony from the record, after finding his analysis “unreliable.”

“His testimony in his direct examination is just incorrect,” said Common Cause attorney Daniel Jacobson, who also led a heated cross-examination of Johnson about his analysis methods the day before.

Johnson, who is employed by Claremont McKenna College, presented a study on Wednesday comparing Thomas Hofeller’s state House and Senate map drafts to the maps enacted by the General Assembly in 2017 and concluded that the two were not nearly as similar as experts who testified on the behalf of Common Cause had claimed.

If Johnson was right, files found on the deceased mapmaker’s computer that the democracy groups found to contain racial and prior elections data would have been less relevant to the case against lawmakers and enacted gerrymanders.

But Johnson, who also concluded through analysis that the enacted voting districts are not extreme gerrymanders designed to bolster Republican candidates because he was able to draw simulated districts even more favorable to the GOP, left out a crucial variable or two in his study.

Johnson also used his study to compare maps and contrast them with simulations conducted by Jowei Chen, an expert witness for Common Cause.

While drawing his simulated maps, Johnson said he did not take into account a state constitutional restriction imposed on mapmakers and used by other expert witnesses, but abided by federal gerrymandering restrictions. If he had left a federal restriction out of the equation and chosen to use a state-based law in its place, Jacobson said Wednesday, his results would have differed greatly.

North Carolina Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown testified on Thursday. He said about 82% of passed bills are bi-partisan measures and that constituents are being fairly served by state legislators who usually work together.

When asked during cross examination why he co-sponsored several measures to implement and independent redistricting commission while Republicans were the minority party, Brown said he signed the bills in honor of the late Republican Senate leader Horton and that no one actually thought the bills would pass the House.

“North Carolina maps produce more Republicans than Democrats, true,” said the legislative defendants’ witness Trey Hood on Thursday.

He added, “Anytime a legislative body is drawing district boundary lines, there’s going to be politics involved. But it may not rise to an unconstitutional level.”

Michael Barber, an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University, began testimony on Thursday and will continue testifying tomorrow.

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