Gerrymandering Q & A

What is “Redistricting”?

Every 10 years, US congressional districts are redrawn in connection with the US Census. US Congressional district changes are related to reapportionment, the process of shifting the number of congressional seats per state due to population changes.  North Carolina draws its State Senate and State House districts at the same time.

Who draws the voting district maps?

Each state has its own laws on who draws the maps.  In North Carolina, the NCGA draws the congressional and legislative districts, and the governor cannot veto the district maps.

North Carolina’s primary governing law for redistricting is Art. II of the NC State Constitution, which gives the NCGA the authority to draw voting districts with few restrictions on the process or criteria to be used for drawing the districts. The NC state legislature can use the address of incumbents, party affiliation, voting history, and other demographic information to draw the districts in their own favor.

The district maps are subject to the US Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, but they are not required to be impartial or evenhanded. Reasonable minds can differ on what the US Constitution requires – so that gives the NCGA a lot of latitude.

What is gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering is the drawing of electoral district lines in such a way that it discriminates against one group of people in order to give an advantage to another group of people – usually it is done by one political party to gain an advantage over another political party. See this article for an excellent explanation with visual aides:

Is gerrymandering illegal?

The US Supreme Court has held that gerrymandering based on race (that is, relying too heavily on race in draw voting districts) violates the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. NC’s legislative districts were overturned on the basis of impermissible racial gerrymandering.

However, the US Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering (drawing the districts to favor one political party over the other) . The Court has suggested in opinions that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, but it has never ruled on a standard. This may be changing —  there is a partisan gerrymandering case, Whitford v. Gill, on the docket at the US Supreme Court this session.

Can we change the way redistricting is done with a citizen ballot initiative?

No, I am sorry, but that is not the way the law works in North Carolina. In order to get something on the ballot, like an amendment to the State Constitution, it has to be approved by the legislature first.

How can we change the way redistricting is done in North Carolina?

Changes to the laws governing redistricting have to be made by the NC state legislature.  If NC voters want to change the process for redistricting, then they will have to demand fair districts from their representatives and elect candidates who support changing the redistricting laws.

You can call your representatives in the NCGA, and ask them to support an open, unbiased redistricting process using impartial, fair redistricting criteria that excludes the use of partisan data (and that specifically does not allow using the address of incumbents) for drawing Congressional, NC House and NC Senate Districts.

Successful redistricting reform requires: 1) a transparent process for redistricting with meaningful citizen participation and access at all levels and steps of the process, 2) impartial redistricting criteria that does not intentionally or unduly favor or disfavor any political party (NO use or consideration shall be made of the address of incumbents or the political affiliations of registered voters should be allowed).

What is the difference between racial gerrymandering and partisan gerrymandering?

Racial gerrymandering and partisan gerrymandering have historically been treated differently by the courts – but the function of each of them is essentially the same: they are both tools used by the politicians in power to keep their power and to dilute the power of other groups of people. The politicians drawing the maps use both racial gerrymandering and partisan gerrymandering and order to consolidate the power of their own group and to dilute the power of the people not drawing the maps.

Racial gerrymandering has been held to be is unconstitutional for violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  

Historically, the Supreme Court has not wanted to interfere with issues that it deems to be political issues so the Supreme Court has not yet ever ruled that deliberate partisan gerrymandering is necessarily unconstitutional (although it has suggested in opinions that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, it has never ruled on a standard).

How long has North Carolina had a gerrymandering problem?

In NC, Politicians have been using race to divide people in order to retain their own power for a very long time.  

A few years after the end of the Civil War, North Carolina enacted a new constitution that granted the right to vote to black men.  For a period of time there was a coalition of Black and White voters voting together, and this coalition won the legislature.

Almost immediately, the elite opponents who wanted to reserve power for the “better sort” of Whites attempted to break the coalition by appealing to coalition white voters with the message that “all Whites had an interest in the debasement of the Negro.”

The 1877 North Carolina legislature gerrymandered legislative districts so as to minimize Black and White coalition voting[i].


[i] Curtis, Michael, “Race as a Tool in the Struggle for Political Mastery: North Carolina’s “Redemption” Revisited 1870–1905 and 2011–2013”