The Republican-led North Carolina legislature passed a new congressional map Wednesday that experts said likely heavily favors their party, which is expected to face a legal challenge before the 2024 election.
The redrawing of the state’s 14 congressional districts follows years of litigation in state and federal courts over the partisan balance of the map for the state. Under the court-approved map in 2020, voters sent seven Democrats and seven Republicans to Congress.
The new map passed Wednesday would allow Republicans to win as many as 11 of the 14 seats, according to an analysis published by redistricting expert Jonathan Mattingly, a mathematics professor at Duke University.
Mattingly’s analysis said the new map would end up with fewer Democrats in Congress than the previous overturned map. It also said the results would be less “responsive” to changes in the statewide result — sending only four Democrats to Congress even if they won as much as 53 percent of the statewide vote.
Democrats offered an amendment Wednesday that would have kept the state’s current map which has a 7-7 partisan split and the Republican majority voted against the amendment 40-64.
North Carolina’s governor does not have veto power over the state’s map, so Wednesday’s vote in the state General Assembly effectively makes the map law following state Senate passage earlier this week.
Shortly after the passage of the map, former Republican Rep. Mark Walker announced he would drop his gubernatorial bid to run for Congress again under the new map.
A group of North Carolina-based voting groups met outside the state Capitol Wednesday to protest the map and hint at potential challenges. Kyle Brazile, the director of civic engagement at the NC Counts Coalition, called the changes in the map “a clear instance of discrimination.”
“This is minority rule fighting to preserve a political gerrymander on the back of Black communities, poor communities and rural communities,” Brazile said.
During the assembly’s rules committee debate, Democratic state Rep. Allison Dahle questioned the changes to the map that reduced the Black voting-age population of the 1st District, currently held by Rep. Don Davis, D-N.C., and whether that may violate the Voting Rights Act.
“It just feels to me that we are trying to get rid of three Democrats to get more Republican folks in Congress,” Dahle said. “I kind of feel like the people of North Carolina are getting shafted.”
During a committee debate, Republican state Sen. Ralph Hise defended the state’s map, including the changes to the 1st District that made the map more favorable to Republicans. Hise said the movement of the Black population out of the district represented a less than 1 percentage point change.
Hise said the movement of “such a small amount” of the Black voting-age population would not affect the map’s legality under the Voting Rights Act.
After the maps were unveiled last week, attorney Marc Elias, whose law group successfully challenged the state’s last map, floated the possibility of a Voting Rights Act lawsuit in response.
A 2019 Supreme Court case, Common Cause v. Rucho, found that partisan gerrymandering was not an issue for federal courts and instead left it to the states.
North Carolina’s first map based on the 2020 census results was challenged on partisan gerrymandering grounds. Eventually the state courts approved a new map for the 2022 elections, finding that the state constitution banned partisan gerrymandering.
State officials challenged that result in the Supreme Court, where the legislators ultimately lost. However, while that case was going on, the state Supreme Court overturned the precedent that the case was based on, which paved the way for partisan gerrymandering in a new map.
Last week, legislators unveiled the new plan and passed it through both chambers this week.