by Dr. Andy Jackson
Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, John Locke Foundation
The Whole County Provision (WCP), found in Sections 3 and 5 of Article II of the North Carolina Constitution, states, “No county shall be divided in the formation of a [legislative] district.”
The WCP used to be enforced by placing multimember districts in larger counties or groups of counties. That procedure was limited by Thornburg v. Gingles and was functionally struck down in Stephenson v. Barlett (2002) and replaced with a process that groups counties together to minimalize splitting counties.
According to the North Carolina high court, WCP was no accident (pages 46-47):
Based upon our thorough review of the extensive materials filed in this Court in this case, we believe that the people’s insertion of a whole-county requirement within their Constitution was not an historical accident. Rather, we believe that this provision was inserted by the people of North Carolina as an objective limitation upon the authority of incumbent legislators to redistrict and reapportion in a manner inconsistent with the importance that North Carolinians traditionally have placed upon their respective county units in terms of their relationship to State government. Enforcement of the WCP will, in all likelihood, foster improved voter morale, voter turnout, and public respect for State government, and specifically, the General Assembly as an institution; will assist election officials in conducting elections at lower cost to the taxpayers of this State; and will instill a renewed sense of community and regional cooperation within the respective countywide or regionally formed legislative delegations mandated by the WCP.
The court also gave a specific example of a benefit to the WCP under their ruling (page 47):
For instance, there will again be countywide delegations and, in rural areas, contiguous multi-county delegations in the General Assembly, which, in working with legislative delegations from other regions of the State, can more effectively work together in a positive manner on matters of mutual concern to citizens of our State.
That point is essential to keep in mind as courts hear lawsuits claiming that cities should subsume rural areas in legislative districts.