What is redistricting?

Redistricting is the process by which congressional and state legislative voting districts are drawn.

Each of North Carolina's 13 U.S. congressional representatives and 170 state legislators (120 in the North Carolina House and 50 in the North Carolina Senate) are elected from political divisions called voting districts. To ensure each district has an equal amount of people in it, districts are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census is completed.

What is Gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering is the act of drawing voting district lines in order to gain an unfair advantage. While each district must have the same amount of people contained within its lines, there are many ways districts can be drawn to all but guarantee a certain election outcome. Partisan gerrymandering is the act of drawing voting districts in such a way that gives an advantage to one political party at the expense of the other party. This concept is most easily understood visually:

Who draws voting districts?

The North Carolina General Assembly draws voting districts. The governor does not have the power to veto the voting districts maps that are drawn. Historically, there has been very little transparency as to how the process is done and what methodology or data is used.  

Powerful software is used to maximize partisan advantage. The software currently used by both Democrats and Republicans to draw voting districts captures and aggregates:

  • Census data (race, sex, age)

  • Public records information (household income, ethnicity, voting history, party affiliation, etc.)

  • Online data (social media likes, online purchases, news subscriptions, etc.)

The algorithms are then able to use this data to predict with a high degree of certainty the outcome of a particular voting district’s election.

How are voting districts drawn?

What federal and state laws govern redistricting?

Federal law states that voting districts may be drawn at the state’s discretion as long as the following criteria are met:

  1. Based on Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, legislative representation must be proportional to population and each person’s vote must be equal to another, i.e. “one person, one vote.”

  2. Voting districts may not discriminate or favor on the basis of race or ethnicity as outlined in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  

While congressional districts are limited to the above criteria, state legislative districts are subject to federal law and the following redistricting requirements, as detailed in Article II of the North Carolina State Constitution and Stephenson v. Bartlett (2013).

  1. Districts must consist of contiguous territory;

  2. No county shall be divided;

  3. Communities of interest should be taken into account in accordance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

What is happening with the current redistricting court cases out of North Carolina?

North Carolina has experienced more litigation related to redistricting than almost any other state and more than six gerrymandering suits have been filed since the last redistricting in 2011. Common Cause & NC League of Women Voters v. Rucho and Common Cause v. Lewis are two of the most recent cases that will influence redistricting in North Carolina and the entire nation moving forward.

  • Common Cause & NC League of Women Voters v. Rucho was a case brought to challenge North Carolina’s remedial Congressional voting district map (adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2016 after the previous voting district map was struck down by the United States Supreme Court) under the theory that the voting district map constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in violation of the United States Constitution (specifically, the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause and Article I, Sections 2 and 4). On June 27, 2019, the United States Supreme Court held that partisan gerrymandering claims are non-justiciable.

  • Common Cause v. Lewis, filed in North Carolina Superior Court, challenges North Carolina’s current state legislative districts (that were redrawn in 2016 along with Congressional districts) as partisan gerrymanders in violation of the North Carolina State Constitution. This case was heard by a three-judge panel in July of 2019 and a decision by the panel is anticipated sometime in the Fall of 2019. The case will go directly to the North Carolina Supreme Court to be heard if the decision reached by the three-judge panel is appealed.

It is important to note that true redistricting reform cannot be achieved through court decisions alone. To be sure, court decisions only provide relief for the map being challenged in that case, and even if a decision does establish minimum standards for redistricting, those guidelines are still subject to interpretation by the North Carolina General Assembly and only challengeable through continued, lengthy, costly litigation.

What is North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform's proposed solution?

North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform advocates for a state constitutional amendment to reform redistricting, the FAIR Act. In North Carolina, constitutional amendments must be approved by the General Assembly and then the public.

  1. Bill Introduction & Legislative Vote: The FAIR Act has been introduced in the North Carolina House of Representatives in the 2019 legislative session. Through the support of other legislators and the public, we aim to attain 60% or more votes in both chambers.

  2. Ballot Measure: Following approval from at least 60% of both chambers of the General Assembly, the FAIR Act will appear on the 2020 ballot for the voters’ approval. NC4RR will continue its public education campaign to help the citizens of North Carolina understand the facts about redistricting in North Carolina and our proposed solution on the 2020 ballot. A majority vote by the citizens of North Carolina in favor of the ballot measure will amend the North Carolina State Constitution to include new redistricting guidelines.

What proposed reforms are contained within the Constitutional amendment?

The primary proposed changes contained within the FAIR Act are designed to implement a clear, nonpartisan framework for redistricting in North Carolina that holds elected representatives accountable to the constituents who elected them. The following contains the central proposed changes in our constitutional amendment:

  1. Transparent Methods – North Carolinians should be informed throughout the voting district-drawing process – methodology should be public and transparent so that everyone understands how and why the lines are drawn in a certain way. Voting districts are only redrawn once every 10 years so it’s important everyone understands how it’s done.

  2. No Partisan Data – Voting districts should be drawn without the use of partisan data such as party affiliation, voting history, residence of the incumbent or any other data that could identify with reasonable certainty the voting tendencies of any group of citizens.

  3. Sensibly Drawn Districts – Congressional and state legislative districts should be contiguous, compact and respect established county and geographic lines where possible – districts should represent communities as they see themselves.