The Republicans in charge of redrawing the state's House and Senate districts sat quietly and mostly stoned faced at a public hearing Thursday as speaker after speaker accused them of trying dilute the power of black voters.
The hearing, which was conducted simultaneously at seven sites across the state utilizing a sometimes shaky video link, was to gather feedback on the GOP's plans for districts intended to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.
Though the Republican plan could result in a net gain of black legislators, members of the NAACP and other groups that represent minority voters assailed the plan as a Machiavellian attempt to turn civil rights legislation on its head by packing black voters into a handful of districts while leaving the rest more white, and, potentially, more Republican.
Ben Griffin, a member of the NAACP chapter from New Hanover County, called the GOP plan a "return to segregation and isolation for partisan advantage."
"This will make it harder, not easier, for minorities to have their interests represented," Griffin said.
Dan McCorkle of Charlotte pointed to a proposed district in Charlotte that a carves a small majority white condo development into a different voting district that the mostly black neighborhoods surrounding it.
"This is blatant and shocking in its political audacity," McCorkle said. "These districts are plainly gerrymandered."
Others pointed to what appeared to be conscious attempts to redistrict prominent white Democrats such as Sen. Linda Garrou of Winston-Salem and Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro, into minority-majority districts were they could have a harder time winning a party primary.
Of the first three dozen people who spoke at the hearing, none were in favor of the GOP plan.
Even some Republicans rose to criticize proposed lines that would cleave counties, small towns and even individual voting precincts into two or even three different legislative districts.
"I'm a Republican," said Todd Bennett of Franklin County. "We're going to spend a lot of time and money defending these districts that are indefensible. It's just wrong."
Senate Redistricting Chair Bob Rucho, a Republican from Matthews, assured the crowd that the map drafters would take the concerns of those who spoke into consideration before issuing the final plan.
Democrats are likely to challenge the GOP-drawn districts in court.