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Yesterday, the website FiveThirtyEight released a really killer tool that enables you to get a good sense of how gerrymandering actually works—and doesn’t. In essence, “The Atlas of Redistricting” allows you to see what congressional districts would look like if: drawn to favor Republicans; drawn to favor Democrats; drawn to match the state’s electorate; drawn to promote competitive elections; drawn to maximize the number of majority-minority districts; drawn to make district shapes compact; and drawn to make districts compact while following county borders. Nationally, depending on how you work it, you can more or less guarantee Republicans anywhere from 184 to 263 seats, and Democrats anywhere from 171 to 250 seats. But I was more interested in how this would look in North Carolina. Here’s what I found:

Current districts: 10 R, 3 D, no competitive.
Gerrymandered Republican districts: 10 R, 3 D, no competitive.
Gerrymandered Democratic districts: 8 D, 5 R, no competitive.
Match districts to electorate: 7 R, 4 D, 2 competitive (both of which Democrats would be favored to win).
Highly competitive elections: 3 R, 0 D, 10 competitive (4 of which Democrats would be favored to win).
Maximize majority-minority districts: 8 R, 4 D, 1 competitive (Dems favored).
Compact districts drawn by algorithm: 6 R, 2 D, 5 competitive (Dems favored in 2, Republicans in 1, the other 2 tossups).
Compact districts that follow county borders: 8 R, 4 D, 1 competitive (Dem favored).

  • As FiveThirtyEight explains: “All of the hand-drawn maps [all except the current maps and the one devised by algorithm] follow two simple rules: Each district must be contiguous, meaning that all parts of the district touch each other, by water or by land. And each district must be within 1,000 residents of the state’s ‘ideal’ district population—the total population in 2010 divided by the number of districts—to satisfy the legal requirement that districts be equally populous.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Of course the GOP-gerrymandered map has the same net result as the one we have now; the districts were explicitly gerrymandered to benefit Republicans, as the recent court case illustrated. (The question is only whether this is illegal.) But here’s the more interesting thing: in only one of the above scenarios—districts specifically gerrymandered to benefit Democrats—can Democrats expect to enjoy a majority of the congressional delegation. This, despite the fact that we are, on the whole, a purple state. The biggest reason for this is that Democrats tend to group in metros, while Republicans’ strength is the in suburban and rural areas. So, if you’re trying to keep districts compact, you naturally stuff big Democratic majorities into urban areas, leaving Republicans safe outside of them. This is more or less what the GOP legislature did, except on steroids, which is why a court found those districts unconstitutional (the court’s order for new districts was stayed by the Supreme Court).

  • The point is, even if North Carolina had an independent redistricting commission—which we should—Republicans would probably come out ahead, just not as far ahead.

One reply on “Drawing Dem-Friendly Congressional Districts in North Carolina Isn’t as Easy as You Think”

  1. Neither compactness nor competitiveness is a relevant criterion for fair districts. The relevant goal is representative government. The fact that a group of people happen to live closer together has never been a legitimate reason for giving them more representation than an equal number of people who live farther apart — DUH. Competitiveness is even worse — regardless of its shape, a “competitive” district guarantees (no matter who wins) that 49% of its voters will be misrepresented losers. That’s not only bad it’s actually *pessimal* — it’s THE WORST POSSIBLE outcome, representationally — it MAXIMIZES the number of people misrepresented.

    The original 12th, so badly maligned for looking like a snake on a map, actually represented a community of interest (urban black voters geographically swamped under white deplorables voting for Jesse Helms) with so much in common that it would have been *required* to look like that if the Voting Rights Act had remained in effect.

    Another fake constraint that increased difficulty in our last round here is the whole-county provision — honored in the breach IN ANY case — county lines are themSELVES SQUIGGLY and therefore constitute a BUILT-IN gerrymander that (unconscionably) no one will call by its name.
    The single MOST ridiculous source of “difficulty”, however, was the courts’ (astonishing) insistence that partisan data couldn’t be used at all — we could just as easily have used it for good as for ill, and without it, a map is AT BEST “right by accident”. More to the point, even if you claim not to have used it, it will still follow that AFTER the map is drawn, everybody can see what partisan impact it has, so to claim that you didn’t intend to have that impact is fundamentally fraudulent.

    Finally, I repeat, This Is Not Actually Hard, and if you’re not smart enough to figure that out for yourself, here is a little HELP. And this is OLD. You were SUPPOSED to know this ALREADY:

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