News: Quick Takes

NC FREE’s updated district dashboard can help voters navigate election maps

A screenshot of N.C. state House districts from the NC FREE Partisan Data Index dashboard.
A screenshot of N.C. state House districts from the NC FREE Partisan Data Index dashboard.

An updated tool for voter statistics could provide clarity for North Carolinians during a global pandemic and disrupted election. 

The North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that studies the impact of public policies on businesses, has updated the way it calculates the “partisan lean of districts” in the state. NC FREE’s new Partisan District Index dashboard should help voters navigate new congressional and legislative maps and ease their confusion, Anna Beavon Gravely, NC FREE’s executive director, told Carolina Journal.

Redistricting again took center stage last year as several lawsuits over legislative and congressional voter maps wrapped up. In August, a panel of three Superior Court judges threw out North Carolina’s legislative districts. Judges ordered lawmakers to redraw maps immediately. Make the process public, make it nonpartisan, judges said. Legislators followed through, and the judges accepted the new maps. The same panel of judges granted an injunction in a separate lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s congressional districts. Lawmakers redrew those maps, too.

With the changes, voters may not know who’s running to represent them and how much redistricting changed the partisan leanings of their districts. COVID-19 restrictions on campaigning add to the confusion. NC FREE’s Partisan District Index helps uncertain voters, Gravely said, by looking at the partisan leanings of districts in past elections. It also evaluates the possible consequences of more voters using mail-in ballots, where the 1.7 million new voters who’ve registered since 2016 live, and other unpredictable effects of the pandemic. 

The new system’s data goes back to 2014. That’s a tighter time frame than the old system, which used data beginning in 2008. Shortening the range of data should make the PDI’s predictions more accurate, Gravely said. 

Three other changes are being introduced. Precinct boundaries will be calculated by latitude and longitude. Absentee votes will be included and linked to voter files. And the PDI dashboard will get a tab showing the yearly, partisan breakout of each race.

This election is taking place during a global pandemic — we essentially have a donut election. We have had a hole this year when it comes to campaigning,” Gravely told CJ.

By updating the PDI, NC FREE hopes to make the insights more accurate and helpful to North Carolina voters, and to compensate for the changing districts and the impacts of COVID-19.

The revised PDI is active on the NC FREE website. Visit ncfree.org/data/dashboard.

Gravely will host a free demonstration for the new PDI at noon on Wednesday, July 29. Sign up here.