In March, the US Supreme Court ruled that maps drawn by Alabama lawmakers distorted the requirements of the Voting Rights Act by packing African Americans into a small number of districts. Today, the Court pointed to that decision and ordered the NC Supreme Court to reconsider a challenge to the maps drawn by the Republican-controlled General Assembly for congressional and state legislative districts.

Democracy North Carolina is one of the plaintiffs challenging these maps. We applaud this decision as an important step in overturning the biased redistricting plans that aggressively promote segregation in order to help a partisan political agenda.

Our research shows that mapmakers used zigzagging district boundary lines to divide precincts and counties with the goal of creating racially segregated political districts. The lines were purposely drawn to isolate and concentrate African-American voters into a set number of majority-black districts, while concentrating white voters in other districts.

  • Overall, 563 of the state’s 2,692 precincts were divided into more than 1,400 sections by the new plans. More than one fourth (27.2 percent) of North Carolina’s voting-age population live in these split precincts, where neighbors will get different ballots and have less ability to work together for common political ends.  Importantly, black voters are 50 percent more likely than white voters to live in one of these split precincts.
  • Republican mapmakers said they had to segregate voters in this manner to create majority-black districts that would satisfy the Voting Rights Act’s requirement that African-American voters have a fair chance to elect representatives of their choice. But 15 of the 25 African-American legislators in the 2010 General Assembly were elected in districts where black voters were a minority. They were elected by a “fusion coalition” of people of color and white voters. The US Supreme Court is right: packing blacks into arbitrarily fixed super-majority districts is no longer required for them to elect candidates of their choice.
  • Republican mapmakers admit their goal in splitting many precincts and drawing weirdly shaped districts was to increase the chances that their party’s representatives would win elections, and they adamantly deny that race was a deciding factor in how the splits were made. However, it turns out that the GOP mapmakers only had the racial identity of voters below the precinct level, not the party affiliation. They could not zigzag a line through a precinct based on where voters from one party or another lived; instead, they were using race as a surrogate for who was likely a Democrat or a Republican.

The divisive strategy used in drawing these maps undermines the development of multiracial fusion coalitions in North Carolina.  White Democrats used similar strategies 120 years ago to fight a Fusion coalition of black Lincoln Republicans and white Populists – and now white Republicans are doing the same thing.

Democracy North Carolina recognizes that some partisan advantage and precinct splitting is inevitable in how new maps are drawn. But the plans developed in 2011 divided far more precincts than ever before and went well beyond the limits of acceptable political greed. North Carolina can and must do better.

Bob Hall
Democracy North Carolina
Direct line: 919-489-1931
April 20, 2015