RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republicans on Wednesday pitched new maps for the state’s congressional districts starting in 2024 that appear to threaten the reelection of at least three current Democratic U.S. House members.
Senate redistricting committee leaders introduced two proposals that would rework the boundary lines for the state’s 14 U.S. House seats. The House and Senate want to enact a final plan by the end of the month. Candidate filing for the 2024 election is set to begin in early December.
North Carolina’s delegation is currently split between seven Democrats and seven Republicans following the 2022 elections conducted using a map that was drawn by a panel of trial judges. Supporters of that plan said it reflected North Carolina’s usually close races for statewide elected office.
But statewide election data attached to Wednesday’s proposals — results designed to determine partisan performance — indicate one of the Senate’s proposals would create 10 districts that appear to favor a Republican candidate, three that favor a Democrat and one that could be considered competitive. In the other proposal, Republicans would appear to be in a good position to win 11 of the 14 seats. It wasn’t immediately clear which of the plans — or a hybrid — will advance in the Senate.
While the House will have some say over any final product before it receives support from a majority in each chamber, a plan creating a 10-4 or 11-3 split would be a significant electoral windfall for congressional Republicans seeking to preserve or build their narrow U.S. House majority next year. The state constitution exempts redistricting legislation from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.
“The conventional wisdom is that this probably nets Republicans at least three seats in the U.S. House and makes the math of keeping a Republican majority a little easier,” Asher Hildebrand, a redistricting expert at Duke University and a chief of staff to former Democratic Rep. David Price, said in an interview.
Current House Democrats whose reelection prospects appear threatened in the plans are first-term Reps. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte and Wiley Nickel of Cary, as well as second-term Rep. Kathy Manning of Greensboro. And depending on the plan, either Reps. Valerie Foushee of Chapel Hill or Don Davis of Greene County — both first-term Black lawmakers — could face running in Republican-leaning districts or have to run elsewhere.
“Do you run in a district that you know, that you’ve built some ties to, that you’ve been representing already but that now seems out of reach politically? Or do you move on and look at other races?” Hildebrand asked. “That’s a hard decision for the three, perhaps four, incumbents who will find themselves out of a seat.”
The current congressional plan that led to a 7-7 split was the result of trial judges who declared that lawmakers had failed to comply fully with a February 2022 ruling by the state Supreme Court that determined the state constitution outlawed extensive partisan gerrymandering. State law says such an interim map can only be used for one election cycle, giving lawmakers another chance to draw boundaries.
But last spring, the state Supreme Court — flipped from a Democratic majority to Republican — ruled that the state constitution didn’t actually limit partisan gerrymandering. That freed up Republicans to return to more GOP-friendly maps and reduced options available to Democrats to sue to block boundaries.
Wednesday’s district proposals would split the state’s largest counties surrounding heavily Democratic Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro into two or three districts, some of which pull in more Republican suburban and rural voters.
GOP Rep. Destin Hall, a co-chair of the House Redistricting Committee, said Wednesday in a text message that the Senate would debate and vote on a congressional plan first before sending it the House. He said House leaders “worked with Senate leadership on the congressional plan,” but he didn’t say which Senate plan the House supported.
The state Supreme Court agreed in April that legislators could take another crack at drawing their own district boundaries for use through the 2030 elections because the premise upon which they drew the maps used in 2022 was wrongly decided by the previous Democratic majority on the court.
Cooper blasted Wednesday’s maps as “gerrymandering on steroids” by Republicans who “have used race and political party to create districts that are historically discriminatory and unfair.”
Republicans gained enough seats during the 2022 elections that they were one additional House victory shy of holding veto-proof majorities in both chambers. They reached that goal in April after a House Democrat switched parties. Legislative leaders are now aiming to retain those supermajorities, which they’ve used to override all 19 of Cooper’s vetoes this year.
The two committees scheduled meetings on Thursday to discuss the plans that were filed Wednesday, with committee votes likely early next week.
Gary D. Robertson And Hannah Schoenbaum, The Associated Press