N.C. remap won’t necessarily produce Democratic majorities

Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

Raleigh, N.C. – North Carolina’s newly redrawn legislative districts are skewed less toward Republicans than the current plans, which judges rejected for political bias, but they wouldn’t necessarily guarantee Democratic majorities in 2020, redistricting experts say.

The new state House and Senate district lines that the General Assembly approved this week have been sent to a three-judge panel – the same panel that declared the boundaries lawmakers approved in 2017 violated the state constitution. The ruling directed nearly half of the legislature’s 170 districts be redrawn, in both urban and rural areas.

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2013 file photo, Phil Berger takes an oath as he was re-elected to North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore, in Raleigh, N.C.

Outside analysts say the new maps are less weighted in Republicans’ favor than those used in last year’s elections, when recent election results and other factors are considered.

“Given a baseline of perfect symmetry, one would find the remedial plans better than their predecessors but still reasonably far from treating both parties equally,” wrote Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law school professor involved in a previous partisan gerrymandering lawsuit in Wisconsin.

It’s unclear whether that will satisfy the judges, who could reject some or all of the altered districts and redraw them with the help of an outside “referee.” A decision isn’t expected until at least next month.

Their Sept. 3 ruling marked the first major decision in a partisan gerrymandering case since the U.S. Supreme Court decided in June to stay out of such controversies. But the federal justices suggested state courts could intervene, and the North Carolina judges did just that in a trial held in July.

Political parties and redistricting overhaul advocates nationwide are watching the results closely as they weigh similar state-level challenges before the next decennial round of remapping begins in 2021.

The North Carolina maps, once finalized, will be used next year. Republicans took sole control of the legislature in 2011 for the first time in 140 years, and they approved maps that help expand their majorities. Their seat margins narrowed in 2018 so that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes can be upheld if Democratic lawmakers stay united.

Based on 2016 and 2018 vote totals, generic Republican candidates still appear favored to win a majority of both the House and Senate districts under the new maps, according to academic analyses.

In the House, where Democrats won 55 seats last year, picking up nine over the previous cycle, the analysts calculate they would be in good position to win anywhere from 49 to 53 seats in 2020. A House majority requires 61 seats. The Senate seems a little better chance for Democrats, who currently hold 21 of the 50 seats. Based on recent election results, Democrats are in good shape to win 22 or 23 seats next year, the analysts said. A Senate majority requires 26 seats.