Analysis: Gerrymandering a political gamble in North Carolina

Written by Bryan Warner on November 12, 2015

Control of the NC General Assembly could be uncertain in the decade ahead as the state sees dramatic demographic shifts, according to a new analysis from political scientists at NC State University.

According to Dr. Andrew Taylor and Dr. Mark Nance, many legislative districts currently leaning Republican will see a shift toward Democratic voters – and vice versa – in the coming years. In turn, it will be unclear which party might hold a majority in the legislature for the next rounds of redistricting in 2021 and 2031.

The analysis by Taylor and Nance was presented as part of the Abe Holtzman Public Policy Forum at NC State University on Wednesday night.

Under North Carolina's longstanding system, whichever party controls the General Assembly is also in charge of the decennial redistricting process in which the state's congressional and legislative maps are redrawn. Redistricting has been highly partisan under both Democratic and Republican majorities, leading to districts that stifle competition and diminish the ability of voters to choose their representatives.

However, Nance and Taylor say that rapidly changing demographics will make political gerrymandering far more difficult to pass judicial scrutiny and less sure to withstand even small waves in future elections. In turn, gerrymandering will become a greater risk for whichever party is in charge of the legislature.

"Both parties in the past have been reluctant to establish an independent redistricting process, perhaps because they believed they would be in the majority when redistricting rolled back around," said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina. "However, this new analysis gives Republicans and Democrats a powerful reason to pass redistricting reform now, instead of gambling on which party might be in charge in the coming years."

Phillips said that partisan gerrymandering has alarmed many civic leaders across the state, with more than 240 elected officials from around North Carolina signing a petition in support of redistricting reform. And almost a dozen municipalities have passed resolutions asking the legislature to establish an independent redistricting process.

"We're seeing a growing number of civic and business leaders from across the political spectrum express real concern about the polarizing and destabilizing effects of gerrymandering," Phillips said. "Independent redistricting would provide greater political stability for North Carolina, which could make our state more attractive to the business community while strengthening voter confidence in the integrity of our elections."

Office: Common Cause National, Common Cause North Carolina

Issues: Gerrymandering

Tags: Redistricting

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