Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina's growing populations mean gerrymandered districts drawn for partisan advantage could backfire on their sponsors, a pair of University of North Carolina professors said Tuesday.
Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography at the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Mark Nance, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, spoke at a news conference sponsored by Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, and the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.
The coalition has been pushing lawmakers to create an independent commission to draw the geographic districts in which members of the U.S. House, the state House and the state Senators run. North Carolina has faced frequent lawsuits over its voting districts, including one in which the federal courts ruled this spring that two of the state's 13 congressional districts were so gerrymandered as to be unconstitutional.
The current districts favor Republicans, giving GOP members a bigger partisan advantage over Democrats than raw vote totals would indicate. Republicans frequently note that Democrats did much the same thing when they were in power.
Tippett told reporters that North Carolina added roughly 500,000 people between 2010 and 2015 and was on track to become the ninth- or eighth-largest state in the nation. Those new residents are not distributing themselves uniformly across the state. Rather, they are clustering in the Raleigh and Charlotte areas, even as more rural areas lose population.
Hall represents a Raleigh-based district and says his is one of those gaining population. As an example, he pointed to the practice of sending welcome letters to new registered voters. Each lawmaker, he said, gets a budget for such communication.
"I ran out of postage halfway through my term," he said, pointing to more than 10,000 new voters who had moved in.
As a result of districts like Hall's getting over-stuffed and other becoming deflated by population moves, Nance said, legislative seats that were once slam dunks for Republicans may become losses at the ballot box.
"It's created significant uncertainty for the majority party, especially for members that are either in rapidly growing or rapidly shrinking districts," Nance said, "The best insurance against this uncertainty is a redistricting process that is more transparent, that is more stable and that is a little more nonpartisan."
While some lawmakers filed bills to create such a commission last year, none of the proposals got a committee hearing. Lawmakers return to session next week.