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Republicans on the redistricting committee of the North Carolina Senate have proposed a new set of congressional district maps, set to take effect in 2024. These maps have far-reaching implications, potentially threatening the seats of three Democrats in the House of Representatives.
The proposed maps intend to redraw the boundaries for North Carolina’s congressional districts. This new configuration would establish 10 districts that appear to lean in favor of Republicans, three that favor Democrats and one that could be considered a competitive area.
One significant aspect of these maps is the division of North Carolina’s largest Democratic-leaning counties, such as those in Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro, into as many as three separate districts. In some instances, these divisions are designed to overlap more red-leaning suburban and rural voters into these areas. This aims to create stronger competition between Republican and Democrat runners.
The process of redrawing district lines in North Carolina has a controversial history. Gerrymandering in North Carolina dates back to the Reconstruction era in the mid to late 1800s. During this period, politicians in the state would create district lines that aimed to systematically marginalize African American voters. These districts effectively isolated African American voters, minimizing their influence on politics in North Carolina and across the country. These district lines have made it exceedingly challenging for African American voters to elect officials of their choice and have their voices be heard in the political realm.
The practice of gerrymandering continued to evolve and thrive in North Carolina far beyond the end of the Reconstruction era. In 1962, a landmark ruling came through the U.S. Supreme Court’s Baker v. Carr case. This decision marked a victory for voting rights in the United States. The ruling promoted the principle of “one person, one vote” which required states to redraw district lines based on population changes to ensure fair representation for underrepresented demographics.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 allowed state legislatures to create districts in which underrepresented individuals made up a majority of the population. In 1990, the North Carolina General Assembly established majority-minority districts. These districts were argued to be created in order to adequately adhere to the Voting Rights Act. However, the districts were soon challenged by state Republicans and eventually ruled as an illegal racial gerrymander by the Supreme Court due to the bizarre shapes these districts held. This decision set narrow standards for defining racial gerrymandering, impacting the strength of the Voting Rights Act.
The gerrymandering issue has continued, with a series of court cases involving North Carolina’s voting districts continuing into the present. In the 2010s, the Republican Party won control of the North Carolina General Assembly and, therefore, had control over the redrawing of state legislative districts. However, federal and state courts rejected maps drawn by the Republican party for unconstitutional gerrymandering based on race and partisanship. Last year, North Carolina’s Supreme Court, holding a 4-3 Democratic majority, declared that the map proposals were unlawful on the grounds of gerrymandering with excessive partisan bias and had violated the state constitution’s free election policies. Under court order, lawmakers released a temporary redrawing of North Carolina’s district lines.
However, after the 2022 Midterm elections, the State Supreme Court underwent a pivotal shift, resulting in a Republican 5-2 majority. The court subsequently reversed its previous ruling last Spring, releasing a statement saying there is “no judicially manageable standard by which to adjudicate partisan gerrymandering claims,” and courts “are not intended to meddle in policy matters.”
Under this ruling, lawmakers obtained the freedom to delegate Congressional districts with minor obstruction. This change has raised concerns about the potential for unchecked gerrymandering by House majority parties, which could have large consequences for the state’s political landscape.
Republican Sen. Ralph Hise said that the maps were drawn under traditional redistricting criteria which involves maintaining equal population across districts and minimizing the splitting of municipalities and precincts. However, he told his fellow senators that he did not use racial data to avoid violating the 14th Amendment. “To be clear, the chairs did not believe that the use of racial data would be helpful in reaching any political or other legislative redistricting goal.”
With these new districts, North Carolina’s Republican legislatures could potentially maintain their veto-proof majorities for several years to come.
Currently, North Carolina’s Congress is split between seven Republicans and seven Democrats. Although, under the proposed map, the seats of three House Democrats’ may be at risk. These seats would include Reps. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte, Wiley Nickel of Cary and second-term Rep. Kathy Manning of Greensboro. House Democrats who seek to re-run for their seats may have to run against Republican candidates in more conservative districts.
When defending the new state district map in a Senate floor debate, the redistricting co-chair, Republican Sen. Warren Daniel, told fellow senators, “Democrats in North Carolina have blamed their electoral failures on so-called gerrymandering for over a decade instead of looking in the mirror and understanding that voters have time and time again rejected their out of touch far-left policies.”
In 2022, voters in North Carolina supported the 14 Republican candidates for the U.S. House with approximately 4.4% more votes than they did for their Democratic counterparts.
As a supermajority, Republicans successfully overrode the veto of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper for two bills. One aimed at limiting abortion access and another restricted transgender rights in areas like healthcare and participation in school sports.
In response to these district mapping developments, Gov. Roy Cooper released a statement describing these new maps as “gerrymandering on steroids.” Cooper said Republican legislatures “have used race and political party to create districts that are historically discriminatory and unfair.” Even so, he lacks the power to veto the districts drawn by the Republican House majority under North Carolina law.
The House of Representatives and Senate aim to enact a final map by the end of October.