North Carolina Republicans are well positioned to take at least two House seats in next year’s election — but that’s not because the state is turning red.
The state remains a perennial battleground, with elections being closely divided between Democrats and Republicans. In the last presidential race, Republican Donald Trump won by just over 1 percentage point—the lowest margin since Barack Obama barely won the state in 2008.
But, last week, the GOP-controlled legislature finalized maps that redraw congressional district boundaries, dividing Democratic voters in cities to narrow their votes. The new plan took the number of GOP-leaning districts in the state from eight to 10. Republicans also have a chance to win eleventh.
North Carolina’s plan drew immediate criticism for its aggressive approach, but it is hardly alone. Experts and lawmakers tracking the redistribution process once a decade see a cycle of supercharged gerrymandering. With fewer legal restrictions and intensifying political stakes, both Democrats and Republicans have long been pushing the limits of tactics used to woo districts for greater partisan gains, often community unity or At the cost of racial representation.
“In the absence of reforms, gerrymandering in general has become worse in 2010 than in the last round of redistribution,” said Chris Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University who analyzed decades of redistribution maps in US states. Is.
Republicans dominated redistribution over the past decade, helping them to make more political gains in more states than any party in the past 50 years.
With three months left in the map making process, it is too early to know which party will come out on top. Republicans need a net gain of just five seats to take control of the US House and effectively freeze President Joe Biden’s agenda on climate change, the economy and other issues.
But Republicans’ potential three-seat net gain in North Carolina could be annulled entirely in Illinois. The Democrats who control the legislature have adopted a map with lines snaking like snakes across the state to make Democratic voters swoon and back Republicans in some districts.
Of the 14 states that have passed Congress’ new maps so far, the cumulative effect is essentially a wash for Republicans and Democrats, except for a few tossed-up districts. That could change in the coming weeks, as the Republican-controlled legislature considers proposed maps in Georgia, New Hampshire and Ohio that target Democratic-held seats.
Ohio Republicans have taken a particularly ambitious approach, proposing a map that could leave Democrats with only two of the 15 seats Trump won by 8 percentage points.
Gerrymandering is almost as old as the country, in which politicians draw district lines to “crack” opposing voters in multiple districts or “pack” them into a single one to limit competition elsewhere. At its peak, gerrymandering can deprive communities of representatives from reflecting their interests and lead to elections that reward candidates who make it difficult to compromise in Congress.
While both parties have bungled, Republicans have more opportunities these days. The GOP regulates the line-drawing process in states representing 187 House seats, compared to 75 for Democrats. The remaining states either use independent commissions, split government control or have only one Congressional seat.
“Across the board you’re seeing Republican gerrymander,” said Kelly Ward Burton, executive director of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which oversees the Democratic Party’s redistribution. Burton did not believe that the map of Illinois was a gerrymander, but argued that a state should not suggest equality between the parties.
“They’ve been on power grabs for Congress for a whole decade,” Burton said of the GOP.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who leads Democrats’ efforts, has called for more states to use redistribution commissions, and a Democratic election bill stalled in the Senate would mandate them nationwide. Democratic-controlled states such as Colorado and Virginia recently adopted commissions, leading some in the party to worry that it was abandoning its ability to counter Republicans.
Still, Democrats have shown themselves to be happy for Gerrymander when they can. After the power-sharing deal with Republicans in Oregon stalled, Democrats quickly redrawn the state’s congressional map so one of its six districts made its way. In Illinois, Democrats may purge three seats from a map that has drawn widespread criticism for being a gerrymander.
In Maryland, Democrats are considering a proposal that would make it easier for Democrats to oust Congressman Andy Harris, the state’s only Republican.
The legal landscape has changed since 2010, making it difficult to challenge Garymander. Although it remains illegal to use maps to reduce the power of specific racial or ethnic groups, a conservative majority of the US Supreme Court ruled that many states would no longer have maps run by the US Department of Justice to confirm that They are not unfair to the minority population. Voting rights are required as per section 5 of the Act. The High Court also ruled that partisan gerrymander could not be overturned by federal courts.
“Between the free-for-all over the loss of Section 5 and partisan gerrymandering in federal courts, it’s a lot more challenging,” said Allison Riggs, lead attorney for voting rights at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Carolina to block its new maps.
Newly passed congressional maps in Indiana, Arkansas and Alabama all retain current Republican gains. Of those states’ combined 17 US House seats, only three are held by Democrats, and that is unlikely to change. In Indiana, the new map centers Democrats in one Indianapolis district. In Arkansas, a GOP plan dividing Black Democratic voters in Little Rock even upset the Republican governor, who let it go official without his signature. In Alabama, a lawsuit by a Democratic group opposing the map “strategically cracks and packs Alabama’s black communities, thereby reducing black voting power.”
On Wednesday in Utah, the Republican-controlled state legislature approved maps that convert a swing district in suburban Salt Lake City into a safe GOP seat, sending it to Gov. Spencer J. Cox for his signature.
Although gerrymanders may not always be scrutinized by the courts, they are limited by demographics.
For example, in Texas, the US Census Bureau found that the state had grown so much that it earned two new House seats. Roughly 95% of the increase came from black, Latino and Asian residents who tend to vote Democratic. The GOP-controlled legislature drew up a map that retained Republican advantages, creating new districts dominated by these voters. Civil rights groups have sued to block it.
North Carolina Republicans took a different approach than they did a decade ago. In a previous cycle, courts first found that Republican lawmakers packed too many black voters into two congressional districts, then ruled that they illegally manipulated lines on the replacement map for partisan gains.
The new North Carolina map, which adds a 14th district to the state due to its population growth, is already facing a lawsuit. Experts say it’s unlikely the Justice Department would have approved it if the old rules were in place, especially because it was a black congressman, Democratic Rep. GK jeopardizes the seat held by Butterfield.
“It carries a load of red flags,” said Michael Lee, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice.
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, says he believes the maps are “constitutional in every way.”
Associated Press writer Brian Anderson in Raleigh contributed to this report.