Correction: a previous version of this story indicated that no current members are double bunked in the new map. An update to any double bunked members in forthcoming.
The N.C. House and Senate gave final approval to redrawn or remedial legislative electoral maps Thursday, after last-minute adjustments delayed the Senate session several times. The House gave largely bipartisan approval to its own map, 115-5, Wednesday night, with five Democrats voting against it. The Senate approved the House’s maps, as well, with a 41-3 vote and no comment or change.
Tension was higher over the Senate map, with Democrats opposing the plan and offering multiple amendments that were tabled in party-line votes. Ultimately, the Senate approved its own map with no Democrats voting in favor of it, 26-19. Democrats in the House followed suit, voting against the Senate map, with it passing the House with Republican votes, 67-52.
In total, the number of competitive seats has grown from nine to 15 in the remedial House map and from six to seven in the Senate’s new map.
“I think neither side will be happy with the maps,” said Andy Jackson of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation. “They diminish Republican power and lessen the odds of them getting a super-majority capable of overturning Gov. [Roy] Cooper’s vetoes in the next election. Democrats have an improved chance of winning a majority under the new maps, but those new maps do not help them fully overcome the geographic disadvantage of their supporters being relatively concentrated in a handful of urban areas.”
House boosts competitive and ‘safe’ Democrat seats
Using calculations from a relatively new program called davesredistricting.org, data and analysis of the new maps have been widely available faster. Jackson and Jim Stirling, also of the John Locke Foundation, estimate that the new House map has 16 competitive seats, twice as many as the previously enacted map, plus 54 “safe” Republican seats and 41 “safe” Democrat seats. Four seats in the new map lean Republican, while five lean Democrat, defined as being within a 5%-10% swing.
This distribution gives Democrats more of an edge than the previous maps that featured 38 “safe” seats for Democrats, and 12 that leaned Republican.
On Wednesday in the House Redistricting Committee, Democrats on the committee criticized the timeline to pass a new House map, objecting to the quick turnaround between releasing the maps and holding votes. That tight timeline was driven by the N.C. Supreme Court order and by Cooper’s veto rejecting legislative leaders’ efforts to push the 2022 primaries to June. That bill had been designed to give more time for the process.
While most House Democrats ended up supporting the House plan, five voted no, they say, based on process.
“I appreciate these improvements to the previously enacted map that was found to be partisan gerrymandering,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, during the committee meeting. “I think there is still a better way to do this.”
“I, too, am frustrated with this process,” said Rep. Destin Hall, R- Caldwell, chair of the House Redistricting Committee.
Ultimately, negotiations across the aisle led to the bipartisan support for the final map, which included six amendments proposed by Democrats.
Senate ‘clusters’ spark dissent
Meantime, in the N.C. Senate, Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, and Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, described in detail the criteria used to draw the legislative maps for “partisan fairness” and how they used mean-median and “efficiency gap” data to meet requirements set out by the high court. The “efficiency gap” refers to the number of votes that each party wastes in an election if either party has a set advantage in the district. A lower number indicates a district in which one party is not advantaged.
For the Senate map, Jackson and Stirling find that the old map was likely to produce a 32-18 Republican advantage. The new, or remedial, Senate map favors Republicans, 29-21, putting it in line with Supreme Court recommendations.
Seven key regional clusters, which blend urban areas with their more suburban surroundings, including Wake, Mecklenburg, Cumberland, and New Hanover counties, drew fire from Democrats who objected that the areas did not all lean blue. In the previous map, only Guilford, Forsyth, and part of Mecklenburg’s clusters leaned Democrat. In the new remedial map, the clusters around Wake and Granville counties now tilt blue, as does the northeastern cluster of the state. Mecklenburg/Iredell, Cumberland/Moore, and New Hanover/Brunswick/Columbus tilt slightly Republican in the new map, but within the mean-median and efficiency gap criteria.
The controversy was largely stirred by the Supreme Court opinion itself, which left the order vague and the door open to tense debate.
Associate Justice Robin Hudson wrote in the majority opinion, “We do not believe it prudent or necessary to, at this time, identify an exhaustive set of metrics or precise mathematical thresholds which conclusively demonstrate or disprove the existence of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.”
Still, Daniel, Newton, and legislative staff wanted clear metrics with historic election data to set the three criteria. The used election results from 12 races in 2020 and 2016 to determine the leaning of each area of the state. Those races included the presidential, gubernatorial, lieutenant governor, Senate, and attorney general races, saying that the election results of those races closely match the results of the N.C. Senate races.
“Mean-median and efficiency gap analysis are the broadly used political science techniques that produce a quantifiable metric to analyze,” Daniel told fellow lawmakers.
Democrats in the Senate led by Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, the Senate minority leader, repeatedly objected to the process and the criteria for drawing the maps.
Democrats proposed multiple amendments to the Senate map attempting changes to the districts that were reviewed and voted on in committee Wednesday. Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, tried to amend the Senate map three times; twice to change or eliminate what he referred to as the “Wilmington Notch” and once to change the lines in Wake County that created a Senate district near the capital that leaned Republican. Blue proposed several amendments as well, arguing that clusters in the map did not meet the N.C. Supreme Court’s court’s intent.
“Senator Newton said that every district was changed in favor of Democrats,” said Blue. “You studied the Wake districts, and if they changed by one-half a point I don’t think they meet the court’s order.”
All amendments were tabled by votes along party lines.
“During the remedial map-drawing process we set out to draw maps that scored well based on the requirements of the Supreme Court’s order and included as many competitive districts as possible,” Newton said. “We accomplished that. Our proposed remedial Senate map fully complies with the court’s order.”
The maps must be presented to a three-judge Wake County Superior Court panel by Friday. That same panel of two Republican judges and one Democrat approved the previous maps passed by the legislature in November. That panel must approve a set of maps by Wednesday, Feb. 23. Its decision can be appealed back to the state Supreme Court.
“While Democrat-run states like New York and Illinois are further entrenching their political power, this remedial map reflects North Carolina’s voters and political landscape, not a predetermined partisan outcome,” Daniel said in a statement released Thursday. “In doing so, our state will have what we believe to be four of the most competitive districts in the nation. That’s a far cry from redistricting efforts we’ve seen in recent months in those blue states. The remedial congressional map fully complies with the court’s order and scores well on mandated tests.”
The maps were redrawn at the direction of the 4-3 majority-Democrat state Supreme Court, which gave the legislature until Friday to pass new maps to replace the enacted ones, which the high court ruled were examples of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.
The process is running a tight timeline. Candidate filing is scheduled to reopen Feb. 24, with primary elections scheduled May 17.