Students at NC A&T State University, the nation's largest historically black college or university, recently spoke out against new congressional voting maps that leave their campus split into two districts.
Last month, a federal court ruled that Republican lawmakers had racially gerrymandered two of the state's 13 congressional districts and ordered lawmakers to redraw those district lines. Legislative leaders responded with some dramatic changes to the state's congressional maps and openly declared that their chief aim was to craft districts that would favor their own party.
"I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is not against the law," Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) told the redistricting committee that he co-chairs.
While Republican legislators claim that race played no part in this latest round of redistricting, the new maps divide NC A&T's campus of over 10,000 students – a majority of whom are African-American – into the 6th or 13th districts. According to the students that spoke out last week, the split could dilute the voting power of the campus community and cause Election Day confusion at the polls.
"With this university being split into two congressional districts, it undermines and diminishes its political influence and its lobbying power," said Aleecia Sutton, a student at NC A&T State University and a Democracy Fellow with Common Cause North Carolina.
Nhawndie Smith said dividing the campus could discourage her fellow A&T students from casting a ballot. "How can I vote knowing that my vote won't even have power?" Smith said.
The new congressional maps could face additional judicial scrutiny. But regardless of the outcome in the court case, Dominique Sanders of Common Cause North Carolina says there is one sure way to protect all voters from gerrymandering: moving to an independent system of redistricting.
"We've got to get partisan politics out of the redistricting process," Sanders said.