• The new court-ordered congressional map is highly competitive
  • The North Carolina House map is more friendly to Democrats than was required by the court ruling
  • While the North Carolina Senate map is friendlier to Democrats than the original map was, they are still not satisfied with it

The General Assembly passed remedial congressional and state legislative maps on February 17, one day before a court-imposed deadline. While the courts are reviewing those maps, this is a good time to review them and see how they differ from those passed by the General Assembly last fall.

We will use data from a composite of 2016 and 2020 races for all analyses using Dave’s Redistricting, an online district mapping program. For data on the expected partisan lean of maps using politically neutral redistricting criteria, I will use the testimony of Drs. Daneil Magleby and Jowei Chen, expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in the case that overturned the original maps enacted by the General Assembly.

Congress: You Want Competitive Districts? You Get Competitive Districts

The congressional map passed in November gave Republicans an advantage in ten districts and Democrats in four. That is one more than the 9-5 Republican advantage experts generally found to be the expected distribution of seats if they were drawn using neutral redistricting criteria.

(The Republican advantage is partially due to a small but persistent higher level of support Republicans have with North Carolina voters. Even if North Carolina were a 50-50 state, the distribution of voters in North Carolina gives Republicans a natural advantage. For example, Chen found that even if North Carolina was a 50-50 state, the most likely outcome of a congressional map drawn using politically neutral criteria was 8-6 Republican – see pages 46-48 of Chen’s report.)

The remedial map passed on February 18 (Figure 1) is 8-6 Republican, also within one district of the 9-5 split expected when drawing maps without reference to political data.

The remedial map passed on February 18 (Figure 1) is 8-6 Republican, also within one district of the 9-5 split expected when drawing maps without reference to political data.

Figure 1. Remedial North Carolina congressional district map

Source: North Carolina General Assembly

What is striking about the congressional map is how competitive it is. Four of the 14 districts (29%) are competitive (defined here as the average election results of the two major parties within 5% of each other). By comparison, neighboring Virginia has just one competitive seat (9%), and states such as CaliforniaTexas, and Illinois each have zero (0%) competitive seats. 

The competitive seats are the 6th, 7th, 13th, and 14th. Considering the political and demographic trends in the state, the 7th district may become safely Republican by the end of the decade while the 13th may become safely Democratic. The 6th and 14th districts will likely be competitive throughout the decade. The 1st district is going through rapid political changes and could shift from solidly Democratic to lean Democratic or even competitive by the decade’s end.

North Carolina House: Republicans Sacrifice Land for Peace

The remedial House map (Figure 2) is 63-57 Republican, a shift of eight seats towards the Democrats compared to the 71-49 House map enacted by the General Assembly in November. That outcome is friendlier to Democrats than what Magleby wrote is the most likely outcome of House maps drawn using neutral redistricting criteria, a 68-52 Republican map.

Figure 2. Remedial North Carolina House district map

Source: North Carolina General Assembly

You could be forgiven for thinking that the minority Democrats wrote the remedial map with an outcome like that. To a large extent, they did. Democrats offered seven amendments to change the map, and Republicans joined them in approving six of them.

Many of the Republican sacrifices were in larger counties, such as Wake, Mecklenburg, and Guilford, where the remedial map added more urban precincts to Republican-leaning suburban districts

Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guildford), a redistricting hawk for the Democrats, said, “I appreciate these improvements to the previously enacted map that was found to be partisan gerrymandering.”

The House remedial map passed by broad bipartisan majorities of 115-5 in the House and 41-3 in the Senate.

North Carolina Senate: Democrats Gain, But Want More

If the session for drawing the House districts was a Kumbaya moment, the session for drawing the Senate map was trench warfare by comparison. The remedial Senate map (Figure 3) passed on February 17 is likely 28-22 Republican. That is a shift from the 32-18 Republican original map and matches the 28-22 map Magleby wrote is the most likely partisan lean of a Senate map drawn using neutral redistricting criteria. 

Figure 3. Remedial North Carolina Senate district map

Source: North Carolina General Assembly

Despite those gains, Democrats were not satisfied. They attempted to amend the map nine times, all of which failed on party-line votes. 

What Democrats wanted was for Republicans to cave like their counterparts in the House did. Republicans, who pointed out that the remedial map complied with the various metrics suggested by the court, such as the mean-median score and efficiency gap measures, held their ground.

Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake) complained that the Republican concessions were miserly with their concessions: “Senator Newton said that every district was changed in favor of Democrats. You studied the Wake districts, and if they changed by one-half a point, I don’t think they meet the court’s order.” 

Two districts that flipped from likely Republican to Democratic statewide were in the Granville-Wake county cluster. The Senate district in southern Wake County changed from 50.6-49.4 Republican to 50.2 to 49.8 Democratic, while the district in Granville and northern Wake counties went from 52-48 Republican to 50.3 to 49.7 Democratic. There are now no Republican-leaning Senate districts in the Granville-Wake cluster.

Will the Courts Take “Yes” for an Answer?

The General Assembly’s changes to the congressional and state legislative maps brought them in line with various mathematical redistricting measures suggested by the North Carolina Supreme Court. The Supreme Court and the trial court implementing the Supreme Court’s order must decide if they will reject those remedial maps and instead accept maps drawn by plaintiffs.

The General Assembly would almost certainly replace a plaintiff-drawn congressional map before the 2024 election. With Democrats likely to lose control of the Supreme Court after elections this year, that map would likely be upheld and give the new court majority a chance to reverse the precedent established in this ruling. 

Article 2, Sections 3 and 5 of the North Carolina Constitution task the General Assembly with drawing state legislative districts and state that they “shall remain unaltered” until the next census in 2030. But what if the maps were not established by the General Assembly but by the courts? Does that prohibition against mid-decade redistricting hold in that case? That is a question the leadership of the General Assembly may be willing to explore in 2023 if the courts reject their remedial maps.

The courts have the proverbial ball.