Hopkins weighs in

Published 12:35 am Friday, January 20, 2012

Files affidavit in redistricting case

In an affidavit filed in Wake County Superior Court, Beaufort County’s elections director expresses concerns about lawmakers’ decision to split precincts in state House Districts 3 and 6.

The districts basically divide Beaufort County down the middle with the Pamlico River as the dividing line, taking in parts of Washington along the way.

Kellie Harris Hopkins’ affidavit was among materials filed in Raleigh as part of a lawsuit seeking to overturn redistricting plans approved last year by the N.C. General Assembly.

Plaintiffs include Democratic lawmakers.

Defendants include Sen. Robert Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the chairmen of the Senate and House redistricting committees, respectively.

In her affidavit, Hopkins notes that House Districts 3 and 6 divide Washington’s Wards 1 and 4.

She made it clear her fears about compromised ballot secrecy had nothing to do with partisan considerations.

“The split of Precinct Washington 1 endangers voters’ right to a secret ballot,” she wrote. “The precinct has a total population of 2,165 people. 2,042 people live in the area assigned to District 3. Only 123 live in the area assigned to District 6.

Voter Registration Numbers would be less than total population. Voter Registration numbers would then be reduced into smaller groups by party. Low voter turn out, and voter trends could isolate voters.”

In a follow-up interview, Hopkins reiterated her fears the split precincts could compromise ballot secrecy.

“Splitting precincts, to me, causes concern,” she said.

Hopkins added her staff would abide by the decisions of the courts, whether they choose to leave the current districts in place or send lawmakers back to redraw the maps.

The two redistricting cases on the books in Wake County are presided over by a panel of three Superior Court judges appointed by Sarah Parker, chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court. The panel is scheduled to reconvene today in Raleigh for a hearing on the legal challenges.

“No matter what the outcome, we’re going to administer the elections as best as possible in Beaufort County,” Hopkins said, adding it’s her goal to ensure no voters are disenfranchised.

Hopkins said her affidavit was requested by Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, an advocacy group based in Durham.

Democracy North Carolina’s website says the group is nonpartisan and has statewide reach. The entity joined the state conference of the NAACP and other organizations in mounting a second legal challenge to the maps, apart from the one initially filed by voters, current and former Democratic office-holders.

“The general complaint with both (lawsuits) was that there had been too many split precincts and problems with the way that the Republican majority had drawn and approved the maps,” said Adam Sotak, organizing director for Democracy North Carolina. “With us we’re particularly concerned about the number of precincts that were split … along racial lines.”

“The election processionals (who filed the affidavits) are not taking sides on whether or not the new district maps discriminate against African Americans or give one political party an unfair advantage over the other,” reads a news release from Democracy North Carolina.

The four elections directors on whose behalf the affidavits were filed said the new maps “will confuse voters and poll workers, make elections harder and more expensive to administer, and even jeopardize the secrecy of the ballot for thousands of voters,” the news release reads.

Lawmakers redraw the state’s legislative and congressional district lines every 10 years following the federal census.

A call to Lewis, the House redistricting chairman, wasn’t immediately returned Thursday.