NC legislature begins voting on plans for new election districts that will expand GOP majorities

By: - October 24, 2023 6:00 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 Senate approved new congressional district boundaries and gave a preliminary nod to a new plan for state Senate districts despite Democrats’ warnings that they would be overturned by courts. 

A little later Tuesday, the House approved a district plan for its chamber. 

All three maps lock in Republican majorities.  

The congressional map would change the  7-7 partisan split in the North Carolina delegation to 10 Republicans, 3 Democrats and one district that is trending Republican. 

Even if Democrats were to win 50% of votes or more statewide, Republicans would keep their substantial majorities in the state House and Senate, according to a Duke mathematician’s analysis. The plans the legislature is voting on this week are more gerrymandered than the maps Republicans drew in 2021, according to the analysis. Those 2021 plans were struck down by a Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court as extreme partisan gerrymanders. 

“Basically, the political scientists are telling us we’re passing rigged maps,” said Rep. Eric Ager, a Buncombe County Democrat. 

Democrats in the House and Senate made similar claims about congressional and legislative maps: that they violate the federal Voting Rights Act by failing to create districts in eastern counties where Black voters can elect the candidates of their choice. 

Republicans denied it, saying they asked for evidence that they needed to draw such districts and did not receive a response that made them think they should change their minds. 

“None of the evidence provided what was needed to make us change course,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a Senate redistricting chairman.

Sens. Val Applewhite of Cumberland County and Paul Lowe of Forsyth both asked Republicans why their districts were redrawn to increase their Black populations. Republican redistricting committee leaders would not answer. They have said repeatedly that they did not use racial data in creating any of their plans. 

North Carolina has a long history of courts overturning its redistricting plans. Blue said Republicans are facing another court challenge over how they treated Black voters. 

“You can close your eyes, put your head in the sand, but the United States Supreme Court understands when race is involved,” Blue said. 

Republicans in the state House rejected Democrats’ attempt to create more districts in eastern North Carolina that supporters said would comply with the Voting Rights Act. 

Rep. Robert Reives, the Democratic House leader, said the House map is unfair to people without power.

“We need to empower people who do not have a voice in this building,” he said. “This does not give us representative government. Period.”

The new Senate district plan places Sen. Lisa Grafstein of Wake County into a district with incumbent and fellow Democrat Jay Chaudhuri. 

It also puts incumbent Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus of Mecklenburg into a strong Republican district with a Republican incumbent. They were the only two Democrats drawn into districts with other incumbents. 

Marcus is outspoken on issues such as voting rights and reproductive rights, but hadn’t said much about being targeted until Tuesday’s floor debate.

NC Sen. Natasha Marcus
Senator Natasha Marcus (Photo: NCGA)

“You are choosing to eliminate me from this chamber with the stroke of your pen,” Marcus said. Rather than allowing her constituents decide whether she should be reelected, Marcus said, Republicans have decided for them. 

To accomplish that, Republicans carved up municipalities in her district and even divided her home precinct, she said. 

“I came here to do what my constituents sent me here to do,” she said. “And now, you are using gerrymandering to penalize me for doing my job, for representing my constituents.”

The Senate must vote on the plan for new House districts before they’re final. The House must act on the congressional and state Senate plans. Gov. Roy Cooper cannot veto redistricting bills. 

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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.