Democrats rushed to a majority in the U.S. House by flipping seats in Republican states across the nation, including South Carolina, Utah, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma.
But despite heavy investments in three districts in North Carolina, Democrats were unable to wrest control of a single Republican-held seat in the state. Republicans maintained control of 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats.
To critics of the state’s Republican-drawn congressional districts, which have been declared unconstitutional by a panel of three federal judges, Tuesday’s results provided another example of a broken redistricting process, protecting Republicans from a strong showing by Democrats.
Democrats have won more than 24 Republican-held seats as of Wednesday morning, according to The Associated Press, a number that could rise into the 30s.
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“The blue tide did not breach the gerrymandered sea wall that exists because of the broken redistricting process we have in North Carolina,” said Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause NC. “That was what we were watching for. We were waiting to see, does anything change? Gerrymandering does provide a protective sea wall for those districts.”
Across the state, Republican candidates for Congress won 50.3 percent of the vote and Democrats won 48.4 percent of the vote, according to a News & Observer analysis of vote totals. Democrats did not have a candidate in Eastern North Carolina’s 3rd district, won by Republican incumbent Rep. Walter Jones.
But Republicans kept their 10-3 edge in the state’s House delegation.
Republican Rep. George Holding defeated Democratic challenger Linda Coleman 51.2 percent to 45.8 percent in the 2nd district, which includes suburban Wake County.
Republican Rep. Ted Budd defeated Democratic challenger Kathy Manning 51.5 percent to 45.5 percent in the 13th district, which includes part of suburban Greensboro.
And Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready 49.4 percent to 48.7 percent in the 9th district, which includes parts of suburban Charlotte. All results are unofficial until certified by the state.
A three-judge panel has twice ruled the congressional districts are unconstitutional because of excessive partisan gerrymandering, with the latest ruling coming in August. The judges, which allowed Tuesday’s elections to proceed under the maps, said no future elections could use the districts as drawn. The ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
One of the authors of the maps had a different view of the results.
“The fact that the Democrats competed so heavily in the seats means that they were very confident they could win those seats,” said state Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican who helped draw the districts.
“If they are very confident they could win those seats, it proves the seats were not drawn to keep them out of the process ... Any person who has looked through their mailbox or watched TV or gone on the internet or opened a newspaper knows these seats are in fact competitive.”
Outside groups spent more than $16.2 million in the three districts. That’s in addition to money raised and spent by the candidates. McCready raised more than $4.8 million, and Manning raised more than $3.5 million, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
Opponents of partisan-led redistricting won several victories Tuesday. In Michigan, Colorado, Utah and Missouri, ballot measures designed to create independent processes for drawing districts won approval, according to Stateline. In Pennsylvania, where districts redrawn under a court order were used for the first time, Democrats won four additional seats. Previously Republicans held 13 of 18 House seats.
Phillips, of Common Cause, said he hopes to eventually have North Carolina follow those other states and allow the public to vote on a constitutional amendment for redistricting reform. The legislature would have to put such an amendment on the ballot.
Before that, he said, he’d welcome legislative action to reform the process of drawing districts. And the Supreme Court could decide the fate of the congressional districts as early as June 2019.
“We need to take partisan politics out of the redistricting process entirely. It’s time for leaders from both sides of the aisle to work together on an independent redistricting process that gives the people their voice,” Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress NC Action, said in a statement.
Lewis famously said in 2016 that the maps were drawn “to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.” It is a line that has been cited over and over again in court. Lewis said Wednesday that politics was a consideration in drawing the district, but “it was not the predominant role.”
The current districts were drawn after Republican-drawn maps from 2011 were declared unconstitutional in 2016 because of racial gerrymandering.
“The majority of the people voted for a Republican for Congress (on Tuesday). That’s a fact,” Lewis said. “I just think that the Democrats’ strategy of suing until they find a sympathetic judge is just simply not going to work this time.”