(The Center Square) – Three years after the 2020 census, North Carolina lawmakers are again crafting new redistricting maps that could shift the political landscape ahead of the 2024 election.
Following three public hearings, legislative leaders have said they’re working to finalize new maps for state and federal offices by the end of October. It is the third attempt in as many years to reset political boundaries in line with population changes in the decennial census.
Maps crafted by the General Assembly in 2021 were immediately challenged in court and eventually blocked as unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. The justices, four Democrats in favor, ordered Republican-majority lawmakers to redraw the boundaries. A second attempt was also blocked, resulting in a congressional map crafted by special masters that led to a 7-7 congressional delegation split between Democrats and Republicans in the 2022 election.
Voters in that same election shifted the high court to a 5-2 Republican majority, which overturned the prior court’s decision in April and ordered new congressional and legislative maps.
“It’s almost like we’re backing up time to 2021,” Dallas Woodhouse, executive director for the right-leaning American Majority, told The Center Square.
While state legislative maps are expected to remain largely the same as those used in 2022, “the congressional maps will be very different,” he predicted.
Amid the legal wrangling last year, Jowei Chen, political scientist at the University of Michigan, ran 1,000 simulations and found that 7-in-10 produced a 9-5 split favoring the GOP. Another 9% went 10-4; only 1.3% were 7-7. Chen testified in the litigation, against the General Assembly. The state’s voter registration rolls are nearly even thirds – as of Saturday, 36.3% unaffiliated, 32.9% Democrats and 30.1% Republicans.
Political observers including Woodhouse expect the situation to put at least three Democratic incumbents in new districts that will be difficult for them to win: Rep. Kathy Manning in the 6th District that encompasses Guilford, Rockingham, Caswell, and part of Forsyth counties; Rep. Jeff Jackson in the 14th District covering south Charlotte stretching west to Gastonia; and Rep. Wiley Nickel in the 13th District covering an area between Raleigh and Goldsboro.
Jackson is widely expected to run for attorney general against U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop if his district shifts to the right.
“What happens with Valerie Foushee (in the 4th District), Don Davis (in the 1st District), and Deborah Ross (in the 2nd District) is an open question,” Woodhouse said.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s a pretty safe bet Republicans will go from a 7-7 map to a 10-4 Republican map,” he said. “There’s an outside chance at 11-3, but I don’t expect that.”
Chris Cooper, political science professor at Western Carolina University, expects a similar outcome.
“Jackson is certainly the most likely target to lose his seat,” Cooper wrote in an email to The Center Square.
Cooper says that is due in part to his status as popular freshman Democratic incumbent, and also the location of his district.
“There has long been speculation that Speaker Tim Moore is interested in a congressional seat and his home in Cleveland County is a stone’s throw away from Jackson’s home in Mecklenburg,” Cooper wrote. “In addition, Patrick McHenry resides nearby as well and he will certainly be protected and will not be double-bunked with a Republican.
“If you put all that together, Jackson seems likely to be a short-timer with any new map.”
Moore is speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives; McHenry is speaker pro tempore at the U.S. House of Representatives.
It’s a similar situation with Nickel, who is in one of the more competitive districts that could easily be shifted to a Republican advantage, while Manning “is probably the safest of the three,” Cooper said.
“Then there’s Don Davis. His district is the question mark,” Cooper said.
Davis, from Snow Hill, represents the eastern and northeastern counties of Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Franklin, Gates, Greene, Halifax, Hertford, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Pasquotank, Perquimans, part of Pitt, Tyrrell, Vance, Warren, Washington and Wilson.
“Some speculate,” Cooper says, “that the recent Supreme Court decision in Alabama could make the Republicans less likely to knock off an African American Democrat. He is also more moderate than Jackson, Nickel or Manning, which could make him less of a target for redistricting.”
Woodhouse noted Davis’ District 1 is traditionally an African American district, but the population has shifted toward whites and Republicans in recent years. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in late September upheld a lower court’s ruling that Alabama’s Republican-drawn congressional map violated the Voting Rights Act by including only one district out of seven with a majority of Black voters, despite a population that’s 27% Black. A map was instituted this week calling for a second.
North Carolina’s population is about 20% Black, with no districts holding a majority of Black voters. Davis’ district is the closest at 47.29%, according to Ballotpedia.
“I think that’s the biggest open question,” Woodhouse said. “What does the Alabama case mean … for Don Davis?”