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Following the 2020 Census, the country’s congressional districts will be re-drawn state by state. In the meantime, though, there’s a battle in North Carolina, which has one of the most blatant gerrymanders in the country. A Republican on the 2016 redistricting committee said that the current map — which elected 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats — was drawn because he did “not believe it [would be] possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.”
The state legislature, which is currently dominated by Republicans, passed a new congressional map earlier this month. They did so out of fear that the state court would rule the old maps unconstitutional1That they violate the state constitution, not the federal constitution and institute nonpartisan maps of their own. Republicans figured that if they could pass maps with a less egregious gerrymander, then perhaps they could avoid an even less friendly map forced upon them by the court. Unlike some other states, the governor cannot veto congressional redistricting maps, leaving Democratic Governor Roy Cooper powerless.
On December 2, the state court will hear a motion to reject these new maps on grounds that they violate the North Carolina Free Elections, Equal Protections, Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of Assembly Clauses.
The fate of the newly-passed, Republican-drawn maps is uncertain; it’s unclear if the court will strike them down and if they will be in place for next year’s elections. Below is the current map (drawn by Republicans in 2016 and used in the 2018 midterms) as well as the new map that just passed the Republican state legislature.
Newly Passed Map
Maps from Daily Kos Elections
While the new map’s fate is uncertain, its would-be impact on congressional apportionment is pretty clear. Adoption of the new maps would likely result in two Democratic pickups. The congressional delegation would shift from 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats to 8 Republicans and 5 Democrats.
The 2nd and 6th Districts
The key districts in the redraw are the 2nd and 6th. These seats are both currently held by Republicans: George Holding in the 2nd and Mark Walker in the 6th. The 2nd district, which currently surrounds Raleigh, would absorb the city center, making it safely Democratic. Trump carried the old 2nd district by 10%, but the new 2nd would have gone to Clinton by 25%. Similarly, the 6th District would unite the urban Greensboro and Winston-Salem areas. In the old map these two cities were split between the 13th and 5th districts. With the shift, the 6th District would move from a Trump +15 district to Clinton +21.
Even with these changes, the Democratic Party still thinks the maps have an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The problem lies in the Sandhills region. The region is heavily black and leans Democratic. In the new maps, the region is split between the 8th and 9th districts. Democrats would like a new district to comprise the entirety of the Sandhills region, which would give them another easy pickup.
The Clock is Ticking
Candidate filing for North Carolina congressional primary races was supposed to begin on December 2nd. Democrats have already challenged the new maps and Republicans have been arguing that, with the filing deadline approaching, it’s too late to make changes. On November 20, though, the court delayed the filing period and scheduled a hearing for that day — December 2 — instead. The court has put candidate filing on hold until the hearing date at least.
The three-judge panel could side with the legislature, ruling the maps don’t violate the state constitution, and filing could resume quickly. Alternatively, the court could decide that the maps are unconstitutional. In this scenario, the state could order the state legislature to try again or could commission a redraw from a nonpartisan expert. Depending on how long this would take, the state could have to reschedule the primary, possibly splitting congressional primaries from others, including the presidential.
Candidates, advocates, and voters are currently in limbo. Nobody knows what districts will be in place next year. Regardless, it looks like Democrats will pick up at least two additional seats in North Carolina, tightening their grasp on the House. Democrats can now afford to lose 17 seats and hold the majority. Depending on what goes down in North Carolina, that number will effectively be 19 or 20 by election day.