Q&A: Takeaways From NC's 2016 Congressional Redistricting

Feb 19, 2016

North Carolina lawmakers met a Friday deadline to complete a court-ordered rewrite of the state's congressional voting maps. They also postponed the congressional primary until June 7. 

The new plans will move forward after the U.S. Supreme Court late Friday declined Republican lawmakers' request to stay the lower court order. Here are some of the key takeaways from the redesign:

Why did the General Assembly re-draw the maps?

On Feb. 5, federal judges struck down part of the state’s congressional maps, saying lawmakers relied primarily on race to draw the lines around two majority black districts without justification for that practice. Consequentially, the judges, from the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, directed North Carolina lawmakers to re-draw those districts by Feb. 19, roughly four weeks before the state’s primary elections on March 15.

How did lawmakers draw the maps?

This week, the Republican majority’s chief map designers -- Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County and Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County -- laid out seven criteria points for the districts. Most notably, they said that to avert any accusations of racial gerrymandering, they would disregard race as a factor altogether. They said that instead, they would largely rely on voting patterns since 2008. Lewis said the maps would be drawn in order to guarantee that 10 congressional districts would continue to be held by Republicans, and 3 by Democrats.

Who drew the maps?

After questioning from Democrats in the minority, Lewis and Rucho said they had hired Tom Hofeller, a Republican National Committee consultant who has helped many states re-draw districts. In 2011, Hofeller helped draw the districts the federal judges struck down in early February. Hofeller had begun drawing the maps before a special committee on redistricting adopted the criteria for the maps this week, Lewis said.

Who do the new maps affect?

Moving the lines around two districts had a ripple effect on all 13 districts. And while Republicans intended to keep the state’s current partisan split in congress, they cut through many incumbents’ districts.

Democratic Rep. Alma Adams, who lives in Greensboro, will no longer live in the 12th District: The 2011 version cuts through parts of Greensboro, down the Interstate 85 corridor and into Charlotte. The new version contains the district to Charlotte and surrounding Mecklenburg County. Similarly, Republican Rep. George Holding, who lives in Raleigh, is no longer a resident of the 13th District, which has now been moved from Central North Carolina to the Western part of the state.

Adams and Holding could run for re-election because representatives aren’t required to live in their district, but it could be challenging for them to win because voters are typically prone to pick a neighbor.  

Meanwhile, only a small section of Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers’ current 2nd District is a part of the new version. Republican Reps. Richard Hudson and Robert Pittenger also stand to inherit fewer than half of their previous constituents.

What are the new political battles?

Holding plans to challenge Ellmers for the 2nd District, said Carter Wrenn, a consultant for his political campaign. Wrenn says Holding would be better qualified than Ellmers for the new district because a majority of it was previously a part of Holding’s 13th.

“You got a bunch of judges and a bunch of politicians trying to work something, and it’s looking pretty much like a traffic jam,” Wrenn said in an interview.

But Ellmers has represented many of her new constituents because her district outline has changed twice since she took office in 2010, and she’s familiar with military and farm issues relevant to the region, said Patrick Sebastian, her campaign spokesman. Sebastian characterized Holding’s plans as “extremely aggressive.”

“Usually you don't have members move to another member's district in your own party to run against them,” Sebastian said. “I think a lot of people are going to see that as a power hungry move.”

Meanwhile, Adams plans to run for re-election in the 12th District, McClatchy DC reported. Two Charlotte politicians who lost to Adams in the 2014 primary elections, state Rep. Rodney Moore and former state Sen. Malcolm Graham, have expressed interest.

When will people get to vote in the primary for U.S. Congress?

The primary for congressional races will be June 7. The rest of the state's primaries will continue on March 15. Candidates for congress will be able to file for the election beginning March 16. Under the new law, there will not be a primary runoff for any election this year.

Republican lawmakers maintained the maps they drew in 2011 were constitutional, and had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. But just before 10 p.m. Friday, the court declined to issue a stay.