Following the 2020 census, the North Carolina General Assembly has approved a controversial set of legislative maps.
Critics are charging the General Assembly with partisan gerrymandering—deliberately drawing legislative districts to give the ruling party an advantage over others—after they approved new maps for the state Senate, state House of Representatives and United States House of Representatives on Thursday.
Though North Carolina voters are almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, the Congressional House district map would likely give Republicans a 10 to four seat advantage, compared to the current eight to five advantage.
The N.C. House map gives Republicans 55 safe seats out of the 61 needed for a majority. Democrats would have to get very lucky and win 20 of the 24 competitive districts to win a majority. The state Senate map also leans heavily in favor of Republicans: there are 24 safe Republican districts, 17 safe Democratic districts and nine toss-ups.
“[Republicans] can win a super majority of the state Senate without winning a single Democratic leaning district,” said Blair Reeves, co-founder of grassroots policy organization Carolina Forward.
"Cracking” and “packing” are two of the most common gerrymandering strategies, according to Reeves. Cracking involves splitting a group of the opposing party’s voters into multiple districts. For example, the new maps split the state’s three most populous and Democratic counties—Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford—into three parts each, according to Natasha Marcus, Law School ‘94 and Democratic state senator from Davidson, N.C.
“This dilutes the power of the Democratic votes in those counties and divides communities of interest, putting metropolitan areas into districts that are largely rural and far away,” Marcus wrote.
Packing does the opposite, grouping many opposing voters into a single district.
“And that creates a seat that's 80% democratic, it's super blue. And then everything else, you just make Republican,” Reeves said.
With the assistance of computer modeling, mapmakers can draw district lines to reduce the number of competitive seats and increase their party’s chances of gaining a majority. Many voters prefer competitive elections but “a lot of politicians don't really care about the political representation of the people, they really want to solidify their power,” according Reeves.
Democrats submitted alternative maps, which were graded an A by the nonprofit Princeton Gerrymandering Project. The Republican-supported maps received an F grade.
“Democrats offered several amendments that would have cured the violations—drawing districts that met the committee’s adopted criteria better than the Republican map,” Marcus wrote. “Yet, in almost every case, Republicans rejected our amendments in order to keep their partisan advantage.”
In 2019, North Carolina’s previous congressional maps were challenged in court. In Common Cause v. Lewis, the state Supreme Court struck down the maps as partisan gerrymanders and ordered new maps be drawn. The state legislature, however, didn’t change their redistricting tactics after they lost the lawsuit, and were “even more aggressive,” Reeves said.
This time, civil rights groups Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the North Carolina NAACP and Common Cause filed a lawsuit even before the maps were approved. They allege that the legislature’s failure to consider racial data when drawing the maps violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Equal Protection Clause and the constitutional right to assembly.
Allison Riggs, co-executive director and chief counsel for voting rights at SCSJ, said the redistricting process “failed North Carolinians by redrawing voting districts for political gain and depriving voters of color of their constitutional rights to fair political representation.”
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Anisha Reddy is a Trinity junior and a senior editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.