North Carolina: The ‘most gerrymandered state in the country.’

The North Carolina state Senate last month reviews copies of a map proposal for the state's congressional districts starting in 2024. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum)

By Michael McElroy

November 16, 2023

NC Republicans drew new election maps that cement their power in an evenly divided state. And they did it with “with greater audacity and precision” than any effort in recent history, a new analysis shows.

North Carolina’s new election maps are so skewed, they are the pride of unfair elections everywhere.

In an analysis for Democracy Docket, Asher D. Hildebrand, a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, writes that the election maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature last month make North Carolina the most gerrymandered state in the United States.

So what does that mean?

Republicans in this deeply purple state have manipulated the voting process to all but ensure that they can’t lose an election for the next decade, even if Democrats win more votes across the state overall.

But that’s not just a matter of politics.

Huge stakes

With Republicans able to cement their power without having to worry about winning over more voters, it means they will have little resistance to continue pushing policies unpopular with a majority of North Carolinians – like defunding public schools, passing severe abortion laws, making it harder to vote, and weakening efforts to fight climate change.

“The impact of the new maps — on state and national politics and on the lives of North Carolinians — will be profound,” Hildebrand writes.

Lawmakers drew maps, he writes, that maximize Republican votes and dilute Black votes with “ruthless efficiency.”

A state that saw a 7-7 Republican-Democratic split in Congress under court-drawn maps in 2022 will produce under the new maps in 2024 an eight-seat advantage for Republicans.

“The new North Carolina maps are even worse than many feared, pursuing partisan advantage with greater audacity and precision than any gerrymander in recent history,” Hildebrand writes.

North Carolina is now “the most gerrymandered state in the country.”

Among his findings, the new maps:

  • Pack Black voters into three urban districts while “spreading Republican voters evenly across the rest of the state.” Black voters outside these three districts, then, will have little chance of electing the representatives they support.
  • “Consign Democrats to three ‘deep blue’ seats while offering Republicans 10 seats that are just ‘red’ enough to withstand serious competition — even in a wave election like 2018.”
  • Ignore traditional principles of fair maps, breaking up eight of the state’s 10 largest cities into several districts, which means splitting communities and arranging them based not on shared ideals and interests, but on partisan advantage.
  • Make it impossible for Democrats to win control of the legislature even if they win the most votes in the state overall.

Put them all together, and the maps “almost certainly [make] North Carolina the most gerrymandered state in the country.”

Process problems

The process for drawing the maps, Hildebrand writes, is as “audacious” as the result.

In previous years, the maps were drawn with some adherence to the rules of good faith, he writes.

“In 2021, legislative Republicans required all draft maps to be drawn in public view, invited members of the public to submit proposals and held more than a dozen public hearings across the state,” Hildebrand wrote.

“The criteria they adopted explicitly banned political considerations and the use of election data. Sincere or not, these procedural reforms were important steps toward a more transparent and inclusive process.”

This time, Republicans drew the maps in secret with no real public input.

“Maps were drawn behind closed doors, there was no opportunity for the public to submit proposals and just three sparsely-attended public hearings were held,” he writes.

“In place of the ban on political considerations, the adopted criteria proclaim that ‘politics and political considerations are inseparable from districting.’”

And like a bow on a stocking full of coal, Republicans also passed a separate law that excuses them from following public records laws.

“Republicans tucked a provision into the state budget exempting redistricting records from state public records laws, greatly complicating efforts to challenge the maps in court.”

Wait, didn’t they just draw new maps in the last election?

Indeed they did.

In 2020, Republicans redrew a different set of maps based on the 2020 census.

Several months before the 2022 election, the North Carolina Supreme Court, then with a 4-3 Democratic majority, ruled that the maps were unconstitutional because they violated the state demands of free and fair elections for every voter.

The court ordered the maps redrawn.

Republicans balked and appealed the decision on a fast track to the conservative-majority US Supreme Court, where they hoped to find sympathy. They argued that the state constitution gives the legislature unlimited power to conduct elections however it wants as long as it’s not in violation of federal law.

But while the US Supreme Court mulled the issue, the 2022 midterm elections flipped control of the North Carolina Supreme Court from 4-3, Democratic to 5-2, Republican. Soon after the new term began, the new court took the unprecedented step of rehearing the gerrymandering case then reversing the previous ruling.

The legislature, the new court ruled, can do virtually whatever they want with state elections and maps.

And they did with these new 2024 maps.

The appropriate response, Hillenbrand writes, is not to shrug, pout, or leave the state, but rather to “create comparable pressure for reform” before the next time.

“This means investing strategically and substantially in state legislative races — starting today, not later in the decade,” he writes.

“It means better messaging about the impact of extreme gerrymandering on voters’ daily lives.”

He adds: “None of this will be easy or cheap. But in this era of absentee federal courts and polarized state courts, it may be our only hope of ending partisan gerrymandering once and for all.”


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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