North Carolina legislature approves new US House map
The North Carolina General Assembly on Thursday gave a final stamp of approval to new U.S. House district lines that will likely give Republicans two additional seats in Congress in next year’s midterm elections, over objections from Democrats and anti-gerrymandering activists.
The vote, on a party-line basis, will put the new maps into effect. A North Carolina state law, passed in 1996, prevents Gov. Roy Cooper (D) from vetoing the law establishing the new boundaries.
North Carolina’s population grew by more than 900,000 residents in the last decade, enough to earn the state an extra seat in Congress, swelling its delegation to 14 members for the next decade.
The new maps will create 10 seats in which Republicans have a distinct advantage, three seats that are likely to be held by Democrats, and a single competitive district that likely tilts slightly toward Democrats. Republicans hold eight of 13 seats under the current district lines.
The most significant change under the new boundaries comes at the expense of Rep. Kathy Manning (D), whose Democratic-leaning district centered around Greensboro gets carved between three districts that favor Republicans.
“These congressional maps represent an extreme partisan gerrymander that splits communities of interest, disregards the redistricting criteria set forth by the [legislative redistricting] committee, and shows a callous disinterest for the representation that North Carolinians requested during the public comment periods leading up to the vote,” Manning said in a statement. “These maps were created for one purpose only: To ensure Republicans win more House seats so that they can recapture control of the U.S. House of Representatives.”
The new maps carve out Democratic bastions around Charlotte, a seat currently held by Rep. Alma Adams (D), and the Research Triangle around Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, two districts currently held by Reps. Deborah Ross (D) and David Price (D), who is retiring at the end of his current term.
The maps also put a second incumbent, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D), in a potentially competitive seat. Data collected by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project show Butterfield’s district gives Democrats a 51.8 percent vote share, far from safe if a Republican wave develops in the midterm elections.
Butterfield’s current district is almost evenly divided between white and Black constituents. Just 39 percent of residents in his new district are Black, according to the Princeton figures.
Republican incumbents are largely protected, though the new maps put Rep. Dan Bishop (R) in Adams’s Charlotte-based district. Bishop is likely to run for re-election in the neighboring 8th district, which runs east of Charlotte into conservative Moore, Hoke and Scotland counties.
As part of their deliberations, legislators renumbered North Carolina’s districts from east to west; the newly drawn seat, the 13th district, includes the western portion of Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County and runs west to the Appalachian foothills; Republican observers noted that the district, which does not have an incumbent, includes state House Speaker Tim Moore’s (R) home. Moore is said to be interested in running for Congress.
Democrats are certain to file a lawsuit challenging the validity of the new district lines in state court, ensuring another decade of contested litigation over the boundaries.
“The likelihood is once these maps are formally adopted, the lawsuits will be filed within hours,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College. “It looks like the Republicans are going to push the partisan envelope.”
Marc Elias, the Democratic election law expert behind a series of lawsuits challenging Republican-drawn district lines, said in an email that he would bring suit against the North Carolina lines.
“North Carolinians made it clear at the start of the redistricting process that they wanted to end partisan gerrymandering,” former Attorney General Eric Holder, who now heads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said in a statement. “Instead of listening to the people, Republican legislators did the opposite today by passing maps that are heavily manipulated in favor of their party and that will deny real political power to the most populous and diverse areas of the state.”
Some Republican observers said they were uneasy with some of the district lines because of recent population trends in North Carolina. New residents moving into the western corner of the state, a district currently held by Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R), are pushing that area to the left. Cawthorn’s district as drawn would give Democrats a vote share of 46.3 percent, according to the Princeton figures, virtually ensuring Democrats continue trying to oust him.
Another district south of the Research Triangle is also likely to draw interest from Democrats in coming years. The 4th district, based in Harnett, Johnston, Cumberland and Sampson counties, would carry a 47.2 percent Democratic vote share, the Princeton analysts said. No incumbent lives in that newly drawn district, an area currently represented by Rep. David Rouzer (R), whose district would shrink to account for population growth in coastal areas.