New NC election districts that lock in Republican advantages on their way to approval

By: - October 24, 2023 12:00 pm
NC congressional districts 2023

The new NC congressional map creates 10 Republican districts, 3 Democratic districts and a district that is trending Republican (Source: NCGA)

The state legislature is moving toward approving a new plan for congressional districts that will likely have North Carolina elect 10 or 11 Republicans to the U.S. House in 2024, up from seven Republicans elected last year. 

North Carolina’s congressional delegation of seven Republicans and seven Democrats was elected last year using a court-ordered plan for districts. 

Early this year, the state Supreme Court said courts don’t have a say in partisan gerrymandering issues. That decision freed Republicans in the legislature to create districts that give GOP candidates significant advantages.

A new plan for congressional districts creates 10 strong Republican districts, three solidly Democratic districts and one district that includes eastern and northeastern counties that is trending Republican. First-term U.S. Rep. Don Davis, a Greene County Democrat, lives in that district. 

Additionally, new boundaries for state House and Senate districts may help Republicans expand their veto-proof majorities in both chambers. 

The legislature is redrawing plans after the new Republican state Supreme Court majority ruled that complaints about partisan gerrymandering don’t belong in court. That opinion reversed a 2022 decision by a Democratic majority, which determined the plans the legislature produced in 2021 were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders that required revision. 

House and Senate redistricting committees approved legislative and congressional redistricting plans Monday. The full House and Senate are set to begin voting Tuesday afternoon. 

An analysis by the Quantifying Gerrymandering project at  Duke University says that the new district plans are more gerrymandered than the plans the state Supreme Court rejected in 2021. 

Under the proposed congressional map, Democrats don’t win more seats even with election swings where voting majorities prefer Democrats. 

Under the proposed Senate map, Republicans would maintain a supermajority even if Democrats win more than 50% of the vote, according to the analysis. 

In the state House, Republicans would maintain a “sizable majority” even in a good year for Democrats. 

“These maps are not going to reflect the electorate of North Carolina,” Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, said at House Redistricting Committee meeting Monday night.  “I think we are beginning to enact maps that do not reflect the public will.”

Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers and can approve new districts without Democratic votes. Gov. Roy Cooper cannot veto redistricting plans.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has raised the possibility that it will sue because Republicans have not considered whether they needed to draw districts that comply with a section of the federal Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act would require drawing districts that allow Black voters in some parts of the state the opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice. 

Republicans said the state does not need Voting Rights Act districts. 

Republicans held three public hearings on redistricting this year. In 2021, they scheduled more than a dozen. All work this year was done behind closed doors. In 2021, Republicans drew maps out in the open.

A consultant House Republicans hired to draw the plan for the 120 state House districts was instructed to “create Republican-leaning districts where possible,” Rep. Destin Hall, the House Redistricting Committee chairman, said Monday. 

Redistricting this year should have been more transparent and had the goal of protecting voters, said House Democratic leader Robert Reives. 

Republicans on Monday agreed to make some changes to state House and Senate maps that Democrats requested. For the most part, the changes were minor and would not weaken the Republican dominance the plans perpetuate. 

NC Sen. Dan Blue
NC Sen. Dan Blue (Photo:NCGA)

In the Senate Redistricting Committee, Sen. Dan Blue, chamber’s Democratic leader, warned of legal challenges. 

States are required to redistrict every 10 years. North Carolina draws districts more frequently because courts have continuously declared its plans unconstitutional and ordered new ones. The state is known for being forced to redraw plans after successful court challenges. 

“If I were on the three-judge panel I would enjoin you from holding an election on this map,” Blue said of the revised Senate plan.  “I was hoping that we would work through maps that wouldn’t keep North Carolina at the  forefront of the nation.”

Blue also called out Senate Republicans for drawing districts that put two Democratic women into districts with other incumbents. These were the only two districts where incumbents were “double-bunked.”

Sen. Natasha Marcus of Mecklenburg was put into a Republican district with incumbent Republican Sen. Vickie Sawyer.  Sen. Lisa Grastein was drawn into a district with Democratic Sen. Jay Chaudhuri. 

Republicans’ decision to double-bunk Marcus and Grafstein “reeks of unfairness,” Blue said. 

“You’re doing it for some reason,” he said. “A reasonable person would have to conclude that there’s some sort of animus you have against women.”

Marcus and Grafstein are outspoken members of the Senate. Grafstein, the Senate’s only openly LGBTQ member, was a vocal supporter of transgender rights this session, as the legislature passed a series of anti-trans laws. 

Marcus has been a persistent supporter of reproductive rights and voting rights. She’s spoken forcefully against state funding for crisis pregnancy centers, facilities that look like abortion clinics but try to discourage women from having abortions. 

Marcus said in an email Monday that she is considering her options but has not made a decision. 

After the committee meeting Monday, Grafstein said the plan for Wake County’s Senate districts is bad for constituents. 

Sen. Lisa Grafstein
NC Sen. Lisa Grafstein (Photo: NCGA)

“It’s disappointing to me to see that Wake County is being treated this way,” she said.

She did not want to ascribe motives to Republican map makers for how they treated her and Marcus. 

“I’ve tried to be outspoken and not care about the consequences,” she said. “Whatever the intent, it sends a signal, certainly, that folks like Senator Marcus and myself are being treated differently” than other incumbents. 

Sen. Ralph Hise, a Redistricting Committe chairman, said after the committee meeting that Grafstein and Marcus were not targeted because they are women. 

The plans will withstand any legal challenge, he said. 

“Legal challenges are a consistent part of this process,” he said. “I feel very strongly that we have got maps together at this point that meet all the legal challenges and will be upheld by the courts.”

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.