NC Legislative Maps labeled “extreme partisan gerrymandering,” must be redrawn

A state court ruled Wednesday that the legislative districts, redrawn in 2017, were the result of “extreme partisan gerrymandering” designed to help Republicans and hurt Democrats. 

Lawmakers have two weeks to redraw the maps in a public, non-partisan way.

“It’s a pretty remarkable case,” said Catawba College political science professor Dr. Michasel Bitzer. “This has the opportunity for Democrats, potentially, to have a better showing in next year’s elections when it really matters.”

Next year is important, not just because it’s an election year, but because of the 2020 Census. The result of that will impact how the maps are redrawn again in 2021 based on population. 

Bitzer thinks a new, neutral map could lead to “a more competitive set of races for 2020.” The GOP has controlled redistricting in North Carolina since the GOP took over the General Assembly in 2011.

So could this ruling help shape politics in the state for years to come?

“Oh, most definitely,” said Bitzer. “What we saw in 2011 was the Republicans basically take redistricting and partisan gerrymandering to a very scientific approach.”

The state court ruling comes after the United States Supreme Court ruled in June that only states, not federal courts, could reign in partisan gerrymandering. Common Cause NC, a voting rights advocacy group, filed the state lawsuit, arguing districts were drawn based on voter party affiliation. 

“This is a historic victory for the people of North Carolina,” said Common Cause NC executive director Bob Phillips. “The court has made clear that partisan gerrymandering violates our state’s constitution and is unacceptable. Thanks to the court’s landmark decision, politicians in Raleigh will no longer be able to rig our elections through partisan gerrymandering.”

The three-judge panel in Raleigh found the manner in which the districts were drawn discriminates against Democrats and violates the state’s constitution guaranteeing free and fair elections. 

The ruling applies to the state’s legislative districts but Bitzers says it could open the door to lawsuits challenging the state’s congressional districts as well. Lawmakers have until Sept. 18 to redraw the maps, without the use of election data, which Bitzer says was “critical” in partisan gerrymandering.

“What that means, now,” said Bitzer, “is because they don’t have that election data to include, that shows where different areas vote different ways, they’re going to have to look at the maps in a non-partisan light.”

This story was reported on from Charlotte, N.C.