Electoral Shift: N.C. Redistricting Will Reflect Urban Growth
North Carolina legislators elected in 2010 will have the job of drawing new congressional and legislative district lines in mid-2011.
In addition to the economic recession that weighed so heavily on state budgeting in the recent legislative session, this political reality creates the context of both Democratic and Republican strategy and decision-making in the General Assembly and in their preparations for next year's campaigns.
Another reality will also shape redistricting: the growth and shifting of our state's population. Through this decade, the metropolitanization of North Carolina intensified. As a result, the prospect is for Wake and Mecklenburg counties, as well as for neighboring counties in their regions, to gain additional seats in the state House and Senate.
With the assistance of Gerry Cohen, director of the Legislative Drafting Division, we have sought to present a preview assessment of how population change will influence redistricting.
In 2011, of course, the General Assembly will use the population data gathered in next year's decennial Census. The data we present here come from the Census Bureau's projections; they provide a way to begin assembling analysis and discussion.
In the process of redistricting, legislators will inevitably consider the interests of incumbents and of their political parties. But they also must adhere to the rules embedded in laws and court cases.
The U.S. Supreme Court has required, under the one-person, one-vote ruling, that each legislator represent about the same number of constituents. The Voting Rights Act, along with subsequent court rulings involving North Carolina cases, spells out requirements for assuring that minority citizens can elect representatives of their choosing. And a more recent state Supreme Court ruling says legislators must contain whole districts within county boundaries, unless they have to cross county lines to meet other legal requirements.
Overall, the state's population in 2010 is projected to be nearly 9.6 million, a growth of 19 percent over the 8 million counted in 2000.
After the 2000 Census, the state's 50 Senate districts had an "ideal" population of about 161,000, and the 120 House districts were drawn to have about 67,000 persons each. In 2010, Senate districts will grow to encompass a population of more than 191,000 and House districts of nearly 80,000.
Most counties will show population growth over the 10-year period. Counties whose population rose by more than 19 percent will gain representation -- either a whole seat or a larger fraction of a seat. Counties that lost population or even gained less than the statewide average will lose representation.
[Moore County has a projected population growth of 18.4 percent, from 74,770 in 2000 to 88,503 in 2010. Its Senate and House representation as a percentage should remain essentially unchanged.]
Consider these other findings:
Wake County has grown by nearly 50 percent. Thus, it will qualify for 11.73 House seats and 4.89 Senate seats. Wake is likely to gain two House seats and one Senate seat. Neighboring Durham (23 percent growth) and Johnston (43 percent) are also positioned to gain representation, either full seats or greater voting influence in districts.
Mecklenburg County has grown 31 percent, while nearby Union has grown 70 percent and Cabarrus 40 percent. Mecklenburg qualifies for at least one and perhaps two House seats, while Union and Cabarrus also are positioned to gain legislative strength. Indeed, some legislative battles may arise within metro areas over how to assign voters between core counties and their suburbs.
The counties in the Triad have gained in population, but all at a lower rate than the state as a whole. Therefore, Guilford, Forsyth and their neighboring counties will face the prospect of attempting to hold their own current legislative representation.
The metro area centered around Wilmington also appears positioned to gain representation: Brunswick has grown by 50 percent, Pender 34 percent and New Hanover 23 percent. While Cumberland County appears to have lost ground in its legislative share, nearby Harnett and Hoke counties have both gained.
Variations in Turnout
Analyses of N.C. politics usually focus on the outcome of races for governor and other statewide elections. But you cannot get a full picture of North Carolina politics without attention to the elected representatives of the people known collectively as the General Assembly.
The number of votes cast for offices in the 2008 elections declined as one went down the ballot. Thus, the election fit a long-standing pattern: More citizens vote for candidates for president and governor at the top of the ballot than vote for state senators and representatives and other officials in the lower part.
In the elections for seats in the General Assembly, the number of votes swings widely from district to district in both House and Senate, even though districts are drawn to have a relatively uniform number of voters. Some seats, of course, are uncontested and draw fewer voters. Still, even in contested elections, legislators come to the General Assembly with substantial variation in their base of actual voters.
Here are findings from a review of turnout in the 2008 elections, with special attention to legislative elections:
Overall, 4.35 million votes were cast in North Carolina. In the presidential race, Barack Obama won by 13,292 votes out of 4.26 million cast. In the governor's race, Bev Perdue won by 140,551 out of 4.22 million cast. There were also 95,457 more third-party voters in the governor's race than in the presidential contest.
GOP Does Better in Senate
In votes cast, Republican candidates fared much better overall in state Senate races than they did in state House races. Democrats received 377,390 more votes than Republicans in state House races. Yet in state Senate races, Democrats had only a 162,864 advantage over Republicans.
Under the one-person, one-vote requirement, House and Senate districts must have roughly the same population. After the 2000 Census, the formula resulted in House districts of 67,089 and Senate districts of 160,986. (Of course, population growth and shifts have altered the current population.)
In state House elections, voter participation ranged from a high of 63,000 to below 35,000 in several contested races. In state Senate elections, turnout ranged from 107,000 to fewer than 75,000 votes in some contested races.
The highest participation in a Senate race--107,650 votes cast -- came in District 15 in Wake County, where Republican state Sen. Neal Hunt defeated Democrat Chris Mintz. Variations can be illustrated with these pairings: Republican Sen. Fletcher Hartsell won District 36, where 88,099 votes were cast, while Republican Debby Clary won District 46, where 71,397 votes were cast. Democrat Bob Atwater won District 18, where 96,979 votes were cast, while Democrat Bill Purcell won District 25 where voters cast 70,279 ballots.
With 63,100 votes cast, District 40 in Wake County led the participation rankings in the state House; Republican Marilyn Avila represents the district. Meanwhile, Republican David Lewis won a contested race in District 53, where 30,566 votes were cast. Democrat Ty Harrell won District 41 in a race that attracted 57,524 votes, while Democrat Jimmy Love won District 51 where 32,495 ballots were cast.
The Program on Public Life is part of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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