North Carolina seems perilously close to not being a democracy any more. Cruel dime store heir Art Pope has sought to turn the state into his own personal fiefdom, funding a hyper aggressive Republican Party that has used the Supreme Court declaration that racism no longer exists to vitiate civil rights protections and attempt to entrench a permanent legislative majority through redistricting.
Thankfully, courts are finally coming to their senses and realizing just how pernicious this behavior is (while also realizing they’re the only recourse when the executive and legislative branches conspire against the people), and a federal panel recently ruled that North Carolina’s congressional districts are unconstitutional. And the court told a special master (fancy name for a temporary appointee by the court to enforce a ruling) that he has two weeks to draw a fair map.
Well shoot, I think the good people of North Carolina can draw one themselves. Which is why 50 States of Blue is proud to host my Draw It Yourself series, where I, intrepid line-drawer Robert Wheel, devise a fair map for states then put it out to you, the public for comment. Thanks to that federal court, we’re starting with an emergency North Carolina entry.
Before we draw a fair map, let’s take a look at the current unconstitutional monstrosity:
Blech. While not as visually egregious as some states like Ohio, that map has given Republicans a solid 10-3 advantage in the state’s delegation for most of the decade, even though North Carolina is a swing state that leans Republican (making a 7-6 lead in the delegation far more appropriate). And while it may look visually appealing, it does a terrible job not just of electing a representative delegation, but also keeping communities of interest together.
And how do we draw a fair map? Let’s look at some principles:
- Equal populations. The most obvious legal requirement, each district in my new map is within 350 people of the ideal. The districts all need to be within 1 of ideal in real life, but the software that I use to draw districts (the invaluable Dave’s Redistricting App, which allows citizens to perform tasks legislators normally hoard to themselves) isn’t powerful enough to split precincts. So, if the special master is reading this I am more than happy to draw up an errata sheet to note which precincts should be split.
- Obey the VRA. Few states have as fraught a history with redistricting and the VRA as North Carolina. In the early ‘90s the Bush I DOJ came up with Project Ratfuck, which packed African-Americans into as few districts as possible under the guise of creating majority-minority seats. And the Supreme Court used to go along with this scheme, arguing districts needed to be at least 50% African-American to meet VRA requirements. It’s why North Carolina used to have a district that was once no wider than I-85 linking the African-American communities in Charlotte and Greensboro. But since those rulings the hard 50% requirement has been eroded as seats with electorates that are only plurality white (North Carolina has nontrivial Native American and Latino populations) have been found to be constitutionally permissible. Today North Carolina only has two of such seats, but this map shows you can pretty easily draw four.
- Keep communities of interest together. Keep cities with cities, suburbs with suburbs, rural with rural and the like. This means Guilford and Forsyth Counties go together so Greensboro and Winston-Salem can be united. It means Charlotte’s suburbs get a seat to themselves. And it means I drew an ultra-rural district that hugs the border with Tennessee. Would North Carolinians rather put Asheville with small surrounding rural areas than more densely populated counties in the PIedmont? Let us know in the comments.
- Minimize breaking political boundaries. Wake County is big enough to elect its own congressman! The current Republican map doesn’t let it. Also, we can show that it’s easy to draw minority opportunity congressional seats without making them look like Jackson Pollock paintings.
Alright, with that said let’s turn to the map I came up with:
You can draw a seat in the rural inner banks that is 47% white and 43% African-American while breaking minimal political boundaries (1st District) and putting the remainder of the rural eastern part of the state in another (3rd District). Then you put the whitest parts of Wake County into one seat (the 2nd), so the other Tobacco Road seat taking in Durham is only 48% white (the 4th). And in the southern part of the state, you have a number of counties with high African-American, Lumbee and Latino populations and can cleanly and easily draw a seat that’s only 44% white (the 9th). And nearby Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County supports a 42% white seat entirely within its borders (the 12th).
With the VRA compliant seats out of the way, the rest of the state draws itself. A relatively compact seat takes in the corridor between the 1st and the 9th (the 7th). Greensboro and Winston-Salem also have enough population to contain a district entirely in their two counties (the 13th). The Charlotte suburbs similarly can be put together (the 10th). After that you can put the easternmost portions of the remainder into one seat (6th), make two relatively compact districts north of Charlotte (the 8th and 11th) and the sprawling rural remainder of the state gets its own congressman (the 5th).
So, how did I do? Old North Staters, would you divide things up differently? Keep in mind, messing with the boundaries of the 1st, 4th, 9th and 12th has VRA implications. That said, I’m sure creative solutions can be found if anything is particularly egregious.
And how would this affect North Carolina’s congressional delegation in the next election? Let’s take a look.
1st District (GK Butterfield) – Safe Democratic
The 1st is no longer majority African-American but it’s still 5 points more Democratic than the national average and wouldn’t be a problem for Butterfield (who, to be clear, is Black) to hold.
2nd District (George Holding) – Likely Democratic
The 2nd would’ve been a tight race in 2012, but Clinton won it by 15% in 2016. Accordingly, it’s hard to see how Holding, who has never shown any inclination to tack toward the center, would hold on to such a seat. He’s already facing a competitive race in a seat Trump won by 9 and both of his potential opponents, Ken Romley and Linda Coleman, would live in this district as well.
3rd District (Walter Jones) – Safe Republican
Jones is the rare Republican who’s not entirely terrible. He’s also one of less than 20 Republicans nationwide who has yet to draw a Democratic challenger and is about the best you can hope for in a seat that backed Trump by more than 20 points. Under these lines the biggest threat to him would continue to be from the right in a primary.
4th District (David Price) – Safe Democratic
Today Price is the only white Democrat in North Carolina’s delegation (he used to be one of eight). He’d likely lose that distinction under a fair map, but the 77-year-old could continue his tenure in the House with ease. Notably, while the seat is 48% white, the Democratic primary electorate is probably even more diverse, so he’d likely be replaced by a nonwhite Democrat if he retired.
5th District (Virginia Foxx) – Safe Republican
Putting the most rural portions of the state into one district creates one of the most Republican seats in the country, as this seat would’ve voted for Trump by more than 35%. Foxx wouldn’t have any issues returning to Congress.
6th District (Vacant) – Safe Republican
When drawing fair maps, one thing you discover is that Republicans love representing rural areas but are less enamored with living in them. Rep. Mark Walker lives in the Greensboro suburbs but the areas that give him the margin to stay in Congress have fewer amenities and more poverty. His district actually stays pretty intact under this map (and to be fair his home is only a mile from the border) so he could probably continue running in the 6th with ease.
7th District (David Rouzer) – Safe Republican
Swingy Wilmington gets paired with far more Republican outlying areas in a fair map, giving Rouzer a relatively easy path to return to Congress.
8th District (Ted Budd) – Safe Republican
Nobody really knows how good a politician Ted Budd is. He won a bonkers 17-person Republican primary with only 20% of the vote. He’d get a safe seat under a fair map but I suspect he’d face a primary from one of the two Republicans thrown into the 10th District to his south.
9th District (No Incumbent) – Likely Democratic
The 9th is a minority coalition seat and one of those minorities in the coalition is the Lumbee — a Native American tribe that’s usually Democratic but is also socially conservative and showed a bizarre affinity for Donald Trump. So while the 9th is only 44% white, it only backed Clinton 52-46. Still, 2018 is shaping up to be a great year for Democrats and it’s hard to see how they’d lose an open seat that voted for Clinton (and Obama by much bigger margins). Current 9th District Democratic candidate Dan McCready would be drawn out of the seat but he could move here to run. Former 8th District congressman Larry Kissell represented a nice chunk of this seat as well and lives just inside its borders: if he wants to resume his congressional career at 66, this map would give him a great opportunity to do so.
10th District (Patrick McHenry and Richard Hudson) – Safe Republican
Like I said, Republicans love representing rural seats, but they’d rather live in the suburbs. That means McHenry and Hudson get thrown into the same seat. Both have more political cache than Ted Budd to the north, so I suspect one would run in the 8th instead of against each other if they were put into the same district. I know the 10th isn’t the prettiest district, but it does put together the closest in Charlotte suburbs while making room for two VRA districts. Despite what some bad congressional candidates may say, just because a district isn’t pretty doesn’t mean it’s unfair.
11th District (Mark Meadows) – Safe Republican
It’s kind of a travesty that Freedom Caucus Chairman and Trump ally Mark Meadows gets to live in and represent a cool city like Asheville. Still, the areas around Asheville are heavily Republican so unless we start doing forced hipster relocations it’s hard to see how it’d be represented by a Democrat.
12th District (Alma Adams and Robert Pittenger) – Safe Democratic
Rep. Robert Pittenger said black people are jealous of white people because white people are successful. Enjoy your new heavily Democratic, 36% African-American seat, Bob! He only won his last primary with 35% in a three-way race so it’s not as if he’d be able to take down McHenry or Hudson in the neighboring 10th either. Alma Adams would continue her House tenure without breaking much of a sweat.
13th District (Mark Walker) – Safe Democratic
Democrat Kathy Manning is a pillar of the Greensboro community and already touted as one of Democrats’ top recruits in 2018. This map would give her a safely Democratic open seat to slide into. Congrats to the future congresswoman.
So as you can see this map would give Republicans a durable 7-6 edge in the delegation. Earlier in the decade the 11th and 2nd would’ve been more competitive (and maybe the 9th would be some day) but for now Democrats would have to settle for only a 3 seat gain under a fair map. Still, it really shows you just how royally they’ve been fucked when locking Republicans into a majority of the delegation in a swing state is considered a win.
Of course, that assumes the Special Master thinks like I do. Before I put this map on a sign and march around his office are there any changes you’d make?