Updated Legislative Electoral Maps Pass General Assembly – Carolina Journal
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that no current members were duplicates in the new map. An update of all double berth members to come.
NC House and the Senate gave final approval to the redrawn or corrective legislative electoral maps on Thursday, after last-minute adjustments repeatedly delayed the Senate session. The House gave largely bipartisan approval to its own card, 115-5, Wednesday night, with five Democrats voting against. The Senate also approved the House maps, with a 41-3 vote and no comments or changes.
Tension was higher on the Senate map, with Democrats opposing the plan and proposing multiple amendments that were tabled in party-line votes. In the end, the Senate approved its own map with no Democrats voting in favor, 26-19. House Democrats followed suit, voting against the Senate map, which passed the House with Republican votes, 67-52.
In total, the number of competitive seats has increased from nine to 15 on the Catch-up Chamber map and from six to seven on the new Senate map.
“I don’t think either side will be happy with the cards,” said Andy Jackson of the John Locke Foundation’s Civitas Center for Public Integrity. “They diminish Republican power and diminish their chances of getting a supermajority capable of unseating the governor. [Roy] Cooper’s veto in the next election. The Democrats have a better chance of winning a majority with the new maps, but these new maps don’t help them fully overcome the geographic disadvantage of their supporters being relatively concentrated in a handful of urban areas.
House bolsters competitive, ‘safe’ Democratic seats
By using calculations from a relatively new program called davesredistricting.org, data and analysis for the new maps were made widely available more quickly. Jackson and Jim Stirling, also of the John Locke Foundation, estimate the new House map has 16 competitive seats, twice as many as the map previously adopted, plus 54 “safe” Republican seats and 41 “safe” Democratic seats. Four seats on the new map lean for Republicans, while five lean for Democrats, defined as being in the 5-10% range.
This split gives Democrats more of an advantage than previous maps that featured 38 “safe” seats for Democrats and 12 that leaned Republicans.
At the House redistricting committee on Wednesday, Democrats on the committee criticized the timing of passing a new map of the House, objecting to the rapid delay between the release of maps and the taking of votes. That tight schedule was prompted by the North Carolina Supreme Court’s order and Cooper’s veto rejecting efforts by legislative leaders to push back the 2022 primaries to June. This bill was designed to give more time to the process.
While most House Democrats ended up backing the House plan, five voted no, they say, based on process.
“I appreciate these improvements to the previously adopted map which turned out to be partisan gerrymandering,” Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said during the committee meeting. “I think there’s still a better way to do this.”
“I too am frustrated with this process,” said Rep. Destin Hall R-Caldwell, chairman of the House redistricting committee.
Ultimately, negotiations across the aisle led to bipartisan support for the final map, which included six amendments proposed by Democrats.
Senate ‘groups’ spark dissent
Meanwhile, in the North Carolina Senate, Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke and Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, detailed the criteria used to draw the legislative maps of “partisan fairness” and how they used mean-median and ‘efficiency gap’ data to meet the requirements set by the High Court. The “efficiency gap” refers to the number of votes each party loses in an election if either party has a defined advantage in the riding. A lower number indicates a district in which a 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 Senate’s new, or corrective, map favors Republicans, 29-21, putting it in line with the Supreme Court’s recommendations.
Seven key regional clusters, which blend urban areas with their more suburban surroundings, including Wake, Mecklenburg, Cumberland and New Hanover counties, have drawn fire from Democrats who objected that not all areas tilted blue. In the previous map, only Guilford, Forsyth and part of the Mecklenburg clusters were Democrats. In the new patch map, the clusters around Wake and Granville counties now tilt blue, as does the cluster in the northeast of the state. Mecklenburg/Iredell, Cumberland/Moore, and New Hanover/Brunswick/Columbus skew slightly Republican on the new map, but within the mean-median and efficiency gap criteria.
Much of the controversy was stoked by the Supreme Court’s opinion itself, which left the order vague and open to tense debate.
Associate Justice Robin Hudson wrote in the majority opinion: “We do not believe it is prudent or necessary, at this time, to identify an exhaustive set of precise mathematical measures or thresholds that conclusively demonstrate or disprove the existence of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander”.
Still, Daniel, Newton and legislative staff wanted clear metrics with historical election data to define the three criteria. The election used the results of 12 races in 2020 and 2016 to determine the leaning of each region of the state. Those races included the presidential, gubernatorial, lieutenant governor, senate, and attorney general races, saying the election results of those races closely match the results of the NC Senate races.
“Mean-median analysis and efficiency gap analysis are the widely used political science techniques that produce a quantifiable metric to analyze,” Daniel told fellow legislators.
Senate leaders say the final Congressional patch map has an average-median score of around -0.61%. The mean-median score is well below the court-proposed standard of plus or minus 1.0%. The efficiency gap is around -5.3%, which lawmakers say is well below the court’s requirement of plus or minus 7.0%.
Senate Democrats led by Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, the Senate Minority Leader, have repeatedly opposed the map-drawing process and criteria.
Democrats have proposed several amendments to the Senate map to try to change the districts that were considered and voted on in committee on Wednesday. Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, tried to change the Senate map three times; twice to change or eliminate what he called the “Wilmington Notch” and once to change lines in Wake County that created a Senate district near the capital that leaned Republican. Blue also offered several amendments, arguing that the map’s clusters did not meet the intent of the North Carolina Supreme Court.
“Senator Newton said every district was changed in favor of the Democrats,” Blue said. “You’ve studied Wake Districts, and if they’ve changed by half a point, I don’t think they’re following the court order.”
All amendments were tabled by votes along party lines.
“During the process of drawing corrective maps, we decided to draw maps that performed well against the requirements of the Supreme Court order and included as many competitive districts as possible,” Newton said. “We accomplished that. Our proposed Senate corrective map fully complies with the court order.
The cards are due before a three-judge panel of Wake County Superior Court by Friday. That same panel of two Republican judges and a Democrat approved previous maps passed by the Legislature in November. This panel must approve a set of maps by Wednesday, February 23. Its decision can be appealed to the State Supreme Court.
“As Democratic-led states like New York and Illinois further entrench their political power, this corrective 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 are four of the most competitive districts in the nation. That’s a far cry from the redistricting efforts we’ve seen in recent months in these blue states. The Congressional patch card fully complies with the court order and scores well in mandatory tests.
The maps were redrawn at the direction of the 4-3 Democratic-majority state Supreme Court, which gave the legislature until Friday to pass new maps to replace those passed, which the High Court said were examples of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.
The process is on a tight schedule. Nominations are due to reopen on February 24, with primary elections scheduled for May 17.