Last week, state lawmakers released new political maps — districts for U.S. House, N.C. House and N.C. Senate — after the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down previously drawn maps.
Those maps were struck down due to gerrymandering, a problem that has plagued North Carolina politics for over three decades.
Gerrymandering is the process of redrawing district maps to favor certain electoral outcomes. This can be done politically by focusing on the registered Republicans or Democrats living in an area or racially by prioritizing the voting power of certain racial groups, usually predominant white communities, over others.
Lawmakers can dilute the influence of certain voter blocks by breaking them up to be the minority in several districts. This is called cracking. They can also “pack” certain voter blocks into a single district to limit their voting power elsewhere.
A famous example of this was North Carolina’s former 12th District, which stretched from Charlotte to Durham to encompass as many Black voters as possible.
The problem’s not new
North Carolina has struggled with gerrymandering since 1991 when it had to redraw its maps to fulfill the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act. The Department of Justice struck down this map and asked for a second majority-minority district to be created.
The result was the infamous 12th District.
Maps were redrawn after the 12th and 1st districts were contested in court. The maps survived further objection until the 2010 Republican takeover of the General Assembly. It was then that Republican lawmakers began gerrymandering to their advantage to regain their newfound control over state politics.
The state's maps have been in and out of legal battles for years, bringing us to the present-day efforts to create constitutionally-sound maps.
So, what changed this time?
There are far more competitive districts in these new maps. Competition is absolutely necessary for fair elections. Uncertain whether they can win a particular seat, candidates are more incentivized to cater to the public interest.
The U.S. House map would have four competitive districts — Districts 6, 7, 13 and 14 — compared to only one on the map that was struck down last year. Six seats remain safely Republican and four remain safely Democratic.
Of these four competitive districts, three have a slight Republican lean: 6, 13 and 14. The fourth, District 7, is currently represented by a Republican, though Biden won the district by a margin of less than one percent.
Even those deemed more competitive have somewhat predictable electoral outcomes because of the rural regions they encompass and their voting histories.
North Carolina politics is, for a lack of a better word, messy. We’ve earned the title of most gerrymandered state in the country, and for good reason. Since the 1990s, our state has struggled to create fair and equitable districts, resulting in electoral outcomes that are not always true to the political diversity that exists in the state.
If the same problems persist over 30 years later, it’s time to change how we approach the redistricting process.
Independent and nonpartisan redistricting commissions that draw district lines without partisan biases and multi-member districts — utilizing ranked-choice ballots — are just two ways North Carolina can solve its gerrymandering problem, once and for all.
The very lawmakers that gerrymander our maps in their favor have the power to make this change.
When you vote, make ending gerrymandering a political priority, and be aware of how your district representatives feel about the issue. It’s up to us to push for changes to how maps are redrawn — our policymakers won’t do it for us.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.