Last month, North Carolina lawmakers approved three new maps to revise the state's district maps for both chambers of the General Assembly and Congress. The changes in these districts will make it easier for Republicans to keep majority control of the state legislature and win a majority of North Carolina's seats in Congress. Here’s how the districts have changed and why.
Why the change?
Redistricting is typically only supposed to take place once every 10 years, following the release of U.S. census data. Maps were originally drawn up in 2021 after the 2020 census, but were struck down by N.C. courts because of partisan gerrymandering, according to Common Cause North Carolina, a nonprofit organization that advocates around democracy issues. The North Carolina chapter is a branch of the national Common Cause organization.
Gerrymandering occurs when legislators draw new districts that intentionally split or condense certain voter populations such as by party affiliation or race into non-competitive districts that favor a certain candidate or party.
For the 2022 midterm elections, the maps used were drawn under court order. The new maps would be used for the 2024 through 2030 elections, unless challenged and tossed out in court.
After the midterm elections, the make-up of North Carolina’s Supreme Court shifted to the right, giving legislators a new chance to toy with map rules.
In April, lawmakers asked the N.C. Supreme Court to hear the case on gerrymandering again. The court ruled in their favor, allowing for partisan gerrymandering in future maps.
“None of the facts in the case had changed,” said Tyler Daye, the policy and civic engagement manager for Common Cause North Carolina. “Only the makeup of the North Carolina Supreme Court changed.”
With that ruling, the Republican-controlled General Assembly was free to draw up maps designed to ensure Republican control of the legislature in future elections.
New maps for Cumberland County
In 2022, N.C. congressional delegates were split 7-7 between Republicans and Democrats. According to an analysis from Dave’s Redistricting, a tool that allows for interactive congressional, state and municipal district maps, the new congressional split is predicted to be a 10-4 split, with 10 Republicans to four Democratic representatives.
For Cumberland County, the new map splits Fayetteville in half, with the eastern part sharing Dist. 7 with Wilmington, Hope Mills and Elizabethtown.
The western half of the city and Spring Lake are in Dist. 9, which extends as far north as the bottom of Alamance County and includes some of the Greensboro suburbs. Neither district is expected to favor Democratic candidates in 2024.
“There was no effort made to draw a Sandhills-focused district,” Daye said. He said he worries the congressional representatives for the Sandhills may not be local or aware of issues that matter most to residents in Cumberland County.
On the state Senate side, the districts in Cumberland County have essentially swapped places, with 19 being where 21 was and vice versa.
Dist. 19 now covers most of Fayetteville, and Spring Lake, Hope Mills and the rest of Cumberland County share Dist. 21 with all of Moore County.
Dist. 21 used to be one of the most competitive districts in the state between Republicans and Democrats, according to an analysis by Common Cause North Carolina. But now with the swap, both 21 and 19 are much less competitive, with Dist. 19 leaning Democratic, and Dist. 21 leaning Republican.
For the state House, districts have changed, but only slightly, for Cumberland County residents.
The county still has its own four districts — 42, 43, 44 and 45 — but the shape and size of some of them have changed. Most notably, Dist. 44 has expanded east to encompass most of downtown Fayetteville. Dist. 42 has shrunk, and Dist. 43 now goes as far west as Carvers Creek.
“I think the result of that is there's just fewer competitive districts and there'll be fewer competitive elections, which I don't think benefits North Carolina,” said Democratic Rep. Charles Smith, who serves Dist. 44.
Districts 42, 44 and 45 will stay as Democratic strongholds but with the absence of downtown Fayetteville, Dist. 43 will now become a much less competitive district, favoring Republicans, according to an analysis by Common Cause North Carolina.
“Essentially, this district (Dist. 43) represented by Diane Wheatley … has become much more favorable to her or any Republican that were to run in it going forward,” Daye said.
What's next for voters?
These districts will be used first during the primaries scheduled for March 5. The upcoming primary races will include U.S. president, N.C governor, state judges, county commissioners, N.C. Senate and N.C. House, among others.
The official maps for 2024 are not on the legislature’s website just yet, but curious voters can compare their districts using maps from Dave’s Redistricting. The maps on the site are made from lawmakers’ district map data.
If the maps survive challenges in court, they could be the permanent maps for elections until the next census in 2030.
Historically, both parties have utilized partisan gerrymandering to their advantage.
“When the Democrats were in power in the state legislature, it was the Democrats that were gerrymandering the voting districts,” Daye said. “So it's a game of musical chairs, essentially.”
Minority party leaders sometimes call for what's known as a redistricting commission, which in one iteration is a board made up of members of the public who would draw out the districts for state and national government.
“We would not tell students, you can write your own test and then take it,” Daye said. “That is essentially what we are doing when we are allowing legislators to draw their own voting districts.”
Senate Bill 642, proposed by Democratic state Sen. Val Applewhite of Cumberland County and Democratic state Sen. Rachel Hunt of Mecklenburg County in April, calls for an independent redistricting commission. The bill would establish a board of 15 citizens to create and draw the new districts for North Carolina every 10 years.
Fifteen states across the U.S. use some form of redistricting committee when it comes to state legislatures, according to Ballotpedia.
Contact Char Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org.