North Carolina’s 10.3 million people are represented in the House of Representatives by 10 Republicans and three Democrats — although only a small majority of votes cast in 2016 were for Republican candidates. That lopsided result came courtesy of Republican gerrymandering, and on Aug. 27, a panel of federal judges declared that the GOP map-making is unconstitutional. They said new districts were needed, throwing the midterm elections into chaos, but the plaintiffs now have asked the court not to order new maps by Nov. 6.

Majority

53%

47%

Votes cast

Seats won

77%

23%

Majority

Majority

53%

47%

Votes cast

Seats won

77%

23%

Majority

Gerrymandering is the practice of creating voting districts to favor one group over another. This case presents a stark example of partisan intent, as The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes noted, with legislators making clear that the map was drawn to help one party over another.

How North Carolina carved its congressional districts

Circles are scaled by margin of victory in

the 2016 presidential election

(number of votes)

NORTH

Wilmington

Raleigh

Fayetteville

Greensboro

Winston-Salem

Charlotte

Wake Forest

Garner

Raleigh

Cary

Holly Springs

Apex

Durham

Chapel Hill

Democratic voters in the state’s most populous city, Charlotte, are packed into one geographically compact district. The same is true for the state’s fourth district, which encompasses Raleigh and Chapel Hill. Durham is grouped into the first district with other left-leaning areas in the northeastern part of the state.

 

Monroe

Concord

Mint Hill

Matthews

Charlotte

Huntersville

Gastonia

In other areas, democratic votes are split. Voters in the cities of Greensboro and Winston Salem are divided among three districts, all of which went for Republicans.

Greensboro

High Point

Kernersville

Thomasville

Winston-Salem

Circles are scaled by margin of victory in the 2016 presidential election

(number of votes)

New Bern

NORTH

Rocky Mount

Wilson

Wilmington

Goldsboro

Raleigh

Durham

Fayetteville

Chapel Hill

Greensboro

Winston-Salem

Salisbury

Charlotte

Wake Forest

Garner

Raleigh

Hickory

Cary

Holly Springs

Apex

Durham

Chapel Hill

Asheville

Democratic voters in the state’s most populous city, Charlotte, are packed into one geographically compact district. The same is true for the state’s fourth district, which encompasses Raleigh and Chapel Hill. Durham is grouped into the first district with other left-leaning areas in the northeastern part of the state.

 

Monroe

Greensboro

Concord

Mint Hill

Matthews

Charlotte

High Point

Kernersville

Thomasville

Winston-Salem

Gastonia

In other areas, democratic votes are split. Voters in the cities of Greensboro and Winston Salem are divided among three districts, all of which went for Republicans.

NORTH

Currituck

Morehead City

Havelock

New Bern

Circles are scaled by margin of victory

in the 2016 presidential election

(number of votes)

Greenville

Jacksonville

Kinston

Rocky Mount

Wilmington

Wilson

Goldsboro

Raleigh

Durham

Fayetteville

Lumberton

Chapel Hill

Sanford

Burlington

Pinehurst

Wake Forest

Garner

Raleigh

Greensboro

Cary

Holly Springs

Apex

Winston-Salem

Durham

Salisbury

Chapel Hill

Charlotte

Statesville

Democratic voters in the state’s most populous city, Charlotte, are packed into one geographically compact district. The same is true for the state’s fourth district, which encompasses Raleigh and Chapel Hill. Durham is grouped into the first district with other left-leaning areas in the northeastern part of the state.

 

Hickory

Shelby

Asheville

Monroe

Concord

Mint Hill

Matthews

Charlotte

Huntersville

Gastonia

Greensboro

In other areas, democratic votes are split. Voters in the cities of Greensboro and Winston Salem are divided among three districts, all of which went for Republicans.

High Point

Kernersville

Thomasville

Winston-Salem

“I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” said Rep. David Lewis, a Republican member of the North Carolina General Assembly, addressing fellow legislators when they passed the plan in 2016. “So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.” The judges, in their ruling, sharply disagreed. The legislature’s “invidious partisanship runs contrary to the Constitution’s vesting of the power to elect representatives in ‘the people,’ ” wrote Judge James J. Wynn of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

North Carolina’s districts have been less competitive

This map, made in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that North Carolina illegally gerrymandered along racial lines, has resulted in highly polarized districts, where the Republican and Democratic candidates for president and the House won by wide margins in the 2016 election. Only two districts were won with a margin of fewer than 12 points.

Precincts show a more balanced political lean

Looking at electoral precincts, which usually have between 1,000 and 2,600 voters, shows a more nuanced picture. Roughly 60 percent of precincts voted for Donald Trump, while 40 percent voted for Hillary Clinton. And 469 precincts — about 17 percent of the total — were within a margin of 12 points.

1,073 precincts voted for Hillary Clinton

1,605 precincts voted for Donald Trump

2 precincts tied

+90 Clinton

+60 Clinton

+30 Clinton

Pres. vote

within 12 pts.

469 precincts

+30 Trump

+60 Trump

+90 Trump

1,073 precincts voted for Hillary Clinton

1,605 precincts voted for Donald Trump

2 precincts tied

Pres. vote

+90 Clinton

+90 Trump

+60 Trump

+60 Clinton

+30 Clinton

+30 Trump

within 12 pts.

469 precincts

1,073 precincts voted for Hillary Clinton

1,605 precincts voted for Donald Trump

2 precincts tied

+90 Clinton

+30 Trump

+60 Trump

+90 Trump

+60 Clinton

+30 Clinton

Pres. vote

within 12 pts.

469 precincts

These consistent losses in multiple districts add up; votes for Democratic candidates are diluted to a point where nearly two-thirds are cast for candidates in losing races — otherwise known as “wasted” votes. Only 14 percent of votes cast for Republicans went to losing candidates. A new map could increase the number of competitive districts, a critical gain in a year Democrats are hoping to take back the House.

Nearly two-thirds of votes cast for Democrats went to candidates who eventually lost their races

Almost another fifth of votes were cast in lopsided election victories

far over the amount needed for a simple majority.

House Seat

200

100

100

200

1

2

3

4

5

Votes cast

over those

needed

to win

6

7

8

Votes

cast for

the loser

9

10

11

12

13

Votes cast that

achieved a majority

Combined, that added up to nearly 1.8 million “wasted” Democratic votes across 13 districts

More than

750,000 votes

cast for Democratic

candidates who

won their race

1.4 million votes

went to candidates

who lost their race

400,000 votes cast

over those needed

to win

700,000 votes

cast over those

needed to win

2.1 million votes went

to Republican candidates

who won their race

340,000 votes

went to candidates

who lost their race

Nearly two-thirds of votes cast for Democrats went to candidates who eventually lost their races

Almost another fifth of votes were cast in lopsided election victories

far over the amount needed for a simple majority.

House Seat

votes

(in thousands)

200

100

100

200

Votes cast that

achieved a majority

1

2

Votes cast over

those needed

to win

3

4

Votes cast for

the loser

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

Combined, that added up to nearly 1.8 million “wasted” Democratic votes across 13 districts

More than 750,000 votes

cast for Democratic candidates

who won their race

1.4 million votes

went to candidates

who lost their race

400,000 votes

cast over those

needed to win

700,000 votes

cast over those

needed to win

2.1 million votes went

to Republican candidates

who won their race

340,000 votes

went to candidates

who lost their race

What happens next? On Aug. 31, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, who had filed the suit, asked the court not to order new mapping before the election, writing that “attempting to impose a new districting plan in time for the 2018 election would be too disruptive and potentially counterproductive.” GOP lawmakers are likely to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The high court never has found a state’s partisan gerrymandering so extreme that it was unconstitutional, and this year it declined to rule on cases on maps drawn by Democrats in Maryland and Republicans in Wisconsin.

By the time the North Carolina case makes it way to the Supreme Court, nominee Brett Kavanaugh may be seated on the bench.

And now the ballot preparation has ground to a halt. On Aug. 29, the North Carolina Supreme Court sided with the state’s NAACP and ruled that the wording on four ballot questions, including one on voter ID, is misleading.

Ted Mellnik and Kevin Schaul contributed to this report.

About this story

Data from North Carolina State Board of Elections, Polidata.org.

Originally published Aug. 31, 2018.

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