RALEIGH— A bipartisan effort to take the pens for redrawing legislative and congressional districts out of the hands of General Assembly members is trying to build momentum with the legislature back in session.

At issue is how congressional and legislative maps are drawn to create districts across the state. Currently, lawmakers draw the maps- often with Republicans aiming to keep Republicans in power or Democrats keeping Democrats in control.

New district lines for elected officials are only draw once every 10 years after new census data is collected. But some say it is time to change this oncce a decade process.

“It is not about squiggly lines, or maps that look bad.  They’re always going to look bad because of the voting rights act, or as long as we have that.  But it is about making the process fairer,” said Rep. Paul Stam.

Since the 1980’s lawmakers, and other advocates,  have said the process to draw the lines is too partisan—with the party in power, aiming to stay in power, by drawing lines in their favor.

“And what I would say to my fellow republicans is that this was right 10 years, 15 years ago, when we were not in the majority.  And it is still right that we make sure the system works in a fair way, and we create confidence in our voters that we’re not playing games with redistricting,” said Rep. Chuck McGrady.

Supporters of change say the numbers tell this story. Since 1992, 43 percent of NC legislative races have been uncontested.  Last year- only 8 percent of the races were competitive—meaning they were decided by 5 percentage points or less.

Voters seem ready for change- polling numbers shows 70 percent of North Carolinians support impartial redistricting.  Legislators say they will be filing bills this year to do just that.

The proposals would create either a non-partisan redistricting commission or use non-partisan staff to draw the lines.

“The idea is to create a system where voters choose their politicians, instead of the other way around,” said Chris Fitzsimon, with the NC Justice Center.

But there is a lot less support for the idea of change in the Senate chamber where leaders say the current process works and there is no reason to change it.

“All of our redistricting efforts have been held up in the court, everything has gone according to plan at this point, I see no reason to re-open it,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca.

As of  now, there are expected to be at least two bills filed on this issue. One would be a constitutional amendment, where voters would approve the change in the process for the 2031 redistricting. The other would require legislative approval and would go into effect in 2021.

-Loretta Boniti