Analysis: Changing demographics could make gerrymandering a political risk in NC

Written by Bryan Warner on April 20, 2016

North Carolina's unprecedented population growth will have a significant impact on the state's upcoming political redistricting and could make gerrymandering a big gamble for both parties. That was the message presented at a press briefing Tuesday in the NC legislature.

“2020 is a question mark and the question the two parties need to ask themselves is can they bet their parties’ futures on the outcome of the 2020 election?" said Jane Pinsky, director of the nonpartisan NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

According to Dr. Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography at the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina's growth has outpaced the national growth rate for decades. Based on her analysis, if current state and national trends continue, North Carolina will pick up a 14th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives during the post-2020 reapportionment process.

But Tippett said North Carolina's growth has been highly uneven around the state.

"For example, seven North Carolina counties were among the 100 fastest-growing in the nation between 2010 and 2015. At the same time, 48 of the state's 100 counties lost population," Tippett said. "Whether North Carolina has 13 or 14 congressional seats after 2020, all congressional districts and state legislative districts will require significant boundary changes due to these internal population shifts."

Dr. Mark Nance, a political scientist at NC State University, said rapid demographic changes may cause widespread uncertainty for the state's political climate and could make partisan gerrymandering a risky move for whichever party controls the legislature in the coming decade.

"For our elected officials, these dramatic population shifts mean that their districts may well look very different in five or 10 years than they do now. This spells trouble for politicians who see gerrymandering as their primary electoral strategy," Nance said. "Mix that with the win-small, lose-big strategy of gerrymandering, and the ironic result is that the majority party will feel the brunt of these shifts first, as once-safe districts become competitive again. For that reason, it's arguably in all of their interests to put in place an insurance policy for redistricting that honors the principle of one person, one vote."

Pinsky pointed to House Bill 92, cosponsored by a bipartisan majority of NC House members last year, which would take redistricting authority out of the hands of partisan lawmakers and give it to nonpartisan legislative staff. That bill has not yet received a vote in the legislature.

"When HB92 was introduced in 2015, Republican House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam warned his colleagues on both sides of the aisle that gambling on the 2020 election was not a risk they should take," Pinsky said.

Over 240 local elected officials from 128 towns and cities across the state have signed a petition calling for the legislature to enact independent redistricting. Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper have both called for an end to gerrymandering, as have former governors Jim Martin, a Republican, and Jim Hunt, a Democrat.

The NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is a nonpartisan partnership of over 25 organizations working to promote good-government policies that level the playing field for the citizens of North Carolina.

More information on the effort to enact independent redistricting in North Carolina can be found at

Office: Common Cause National, Common Cause North Carolina

Issues: Gerrymandering, Voting and Elections

Tags: Redistricting

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